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Copyright, 1884, 

All rights reserved. 


FEB 25 '52 



Youth it 

At the Bar 17 

The First Congress 50 

The Second Session of Congress . . . .82 

Independence 104 

After Independence 130 

First Foreign Mission 147 


Second Foreign Mission: in France and Hol- 
land 156 




The Treaty of Peace : the English Mission . . 198 

The Vice-Presidency 241 

The Presidency 265 

The Breaking up 311 

INDEX . .331 




In the first charter of the colony of Massa* 
chusetts Bay, granted by Charles I. and dated 
March 4, 1629, the name of Thomas Adams 
appears as one of the grantees. But he never 
crossed the Atlantic, and Henry Adams, pos- 
sibly though not certainly his younger brother, 
first bore the name on this side of the water. 
In 1636 this Henry was one of the grantees of 
sundry parcels of land at Mount Wollaston, 
soon afterward made the town of Braintree, in 
which neighborhood descendants from him 
have continued to have dwellings and to own 
extensive tracts of land to the present day. 
The John Adams with whom we have to d"» 
was of the fourth generation in descent from 
Henry, and was born at Braintree, October 19, 
1X35. His father was also named. John Adam s ; 
his mother was Susanna Boylston, daughter of 


Peter Boylston, of the neighboring town of 

The founder of the American family appar- 
ently could do little better for himself than 
simply to hold his own in the desperate strug- 
gle for existence amid sterile hills and hostile 
Indians. At his death he left, as his whole es- 
tate, a small bit of land, of which there was 
no dearth on the new continent, a house of 
three rooms, and a barn ; in the house there 
were three beds, some kitchen utensils, a silver 
spoon, and a few old books ; in the barn were 
a cow and calf, pigs and a little fodder. The 
whole property was valued at £75 13s. Lit- 
tle by little, however, the sturdy workers in 
successive years wrenched increased belongings 
from the reluctant soil ; so that the inventory 
of the estate of our John Adams's father, who 
died in 1760, shows X 1,330 9s. 8 d. 

A man so well-to-do as this could afford to 
give one son a good education, and John 
Adams, being the eldest, had the advantage of 
going through Harvard C ollege^ Such was the 
privilege, the only privilege, with which primo- 
geniture was invested by the custom of the fam- 
ilvj. Indeed, our John Adams's grandfather, 
who also had educated his eldest son at college, 
afterward divided his property among his other 
children, thinking that thus he made matters 


as nearly equal and fair between them all as 
was possible. John Adams was graduated in 
the class of 1755, which, as his son tells us, 
" in proportion to its numbers contained as 
many men afterwards eminent in the civil and 
ecclesiastical departments as any class that 
ever,- was graduated at that institution." He 
was- reputed to be a very good scholar, but can- 
not be accurately compared with his comrades, 
since rank was not then given for scholarship. 
The students took precedence according to the 
social standing of their parents, and upon such 
a scale the Adams family were a trifle nearer 
to the bottom than to the top. In a class of 
twenty-four members John was fourteenth, and 
even for this modest station "he was probably 
indebted rather to the standing of his mater- 
nal family than to that of his father." John 
Quincy Adams very frankly says that in those 
days " the effect of a college education was to 
introduce a youth of the condition of John 
Adams into a different class of familiar ac- 
quaintance from that of his father." LaierJn 

lifp John Arln/mg bpnamft nptpd a.s an aristocrat, 

and incurred not a little ridicule and animosity 
through his proclivities and personal preten- 
sions of this kind. In fact, he was that pecul- 
iar production of American domestic manufac* 
ture which may perhaps be properly described 


ft s_a seK-madb^arisl^ra^a^ hara^tex fajniliai 
e^ugEjonjTkb. side of Jie^Ailajitic, but wllich 
Lord Thuiiow almost alone could bring within 
the comprehension of Englishmen. Fortu- 
nately, in Adams's individual case, his ability 
to maintain the position prevented his passion 
from appearing so comical as the like feeling so 
often does with inferior men. Nor indeed was 
he always and altogether devoid of sound sense 
in this respect ; he wrote in 1791 that, if he 
could ever suppose family pride to be any way 
excusable, he should " think a descent from a 
line of virtuous, independent New England 
farmers for a hundred and sixty years was a 
better foundation for it than a descent from 
regal or noble scoundrels ever since the flood." 
The truth is that a proper pride in one's own 
descent, if it can be sustained, is neither an un- 
amiable nor a mischief-working trait; Adams 
had it in the true American shape, and was in- 
fluenced by it only in the direction of good. 
He was at once gratified and satisfied with 
having a lineage simply respectable. 

The boyhood and youth of John Adams are 
incumbered with none of those tedious apoc- 
rypha which constitute a prophetic atmosphere 
in the initial chapter of most biographies. No 
one ever dreamed that he was to be a great 
man until he was well advanced in middle age, 


and even then, in the estimation of all persons 
save himself, he had many peers and perhaps a 
very few superiors. As " the fourth Harry, our 
King " philosophically remarked, upon hear- 
ing of " Lord Perse's " death at Otterbourne, 

" I have a hondrith captains in Inglande, he sayd, 
As good as ever was hee ; " 

though probably enough Percy's valuation of 
himself was different. Pretty much the first 
authentic knowledge which we get of John 
Adams comes from his own pen. On Novem- 
ber 15, 1755, just after his twentieth birthday, 
he began a diary. Intermittently, suffering 
many serious breaks provokingly to diminish 
its just value, he continued it until November 
21, 1777. Only a few years more elapsed be~ 
fore the famous diary of his son John Quincy 
Adams was begun, which ran through its re- 
markable course until 1848 ; and it is said that 
a similar work has been done in the third gen- 
eration. If this be so, much more than one 
hundred years of American annals will be illu- 
minated by the memorials of this one family 
in a manner unprecedented in history and 
equally useful and agreeable. So portentous a 
habit of diary-writing is an odd form for the 
development of heredity. But at least it en- 
ables historical students to observe the descent 
of traits of mind and character more naturally 


transmissible than such a taste. The Adams 
blood was strong blood, too strong to be seri- 
ously modified by alien strains introduced by 
marriage. -It was not a ^picturesque stream, but 
it was vigorous, it <3ut its way without much 
loitering or meandering and when strange rivu- 
lets united with it they" had to take its color as 
*^— well as its course. John Qt&ncy Adams, whose 
story has been told before that of his father in 
this series, was a veritable chip from the old 
block, a sturdy, close - fibred old block well 
adapted for making just such solid, slightly 
cross-grained chips. Only the son was more 
civilized, or rather more * self-restrained and 
conventional than the -father; the ruggedness 
of the earlier fighter /adH.'. self-made man was 
rubbed smoother in * the offspring, inheriting 
greatness and growing up amid more polishing 

In youth John Adams w^s an admirable 
specimen of the New England Puritan of his 
generation, not excessively strait-laced in mat- 
ters of doctrine, but religious by habit and by 
instinct, rigid in every point of morals, con- 
scientious, upright, pure-minded, industrious. 
The real truth about that singular community 
is that they mingled theology with loose mor- 
als, in a proportion not correctly appreciated 
by their descendants; for historians have dweli 


upon the one ingredient of this mixture, and 
have ignored the other, so that the truth has 
become obscured. Certain it is that long ser- 
mons and much polemical controversy were off- 
set by a great deal of hard drinking and not a 
little indulgence in carnal sins. John Adams, 
like the better men of the day, reversed the pro- 
portions, and instead of subordinating morality 
to religion, he gave to morals a decided prepon- 
derance. In his diary he grumbles not only at 
others, but also very freely at himself, partly 
because it was then his nature always to grum- 
ble a good deal about everything and every- 
body, partly to fulfill the acknowledged Chris- 
tian duty of self-abasement. He had an early 
tendency to censoriousness, not to be compared 
in degree to that development of this failure 
which disfigured his son, but furnishing a strong 
germ for the later growth. While passing 
through periods of discontent, which occasion- 
ally beset his opening manhood, his deprecia- 
tory habit was too strong to be checked even 
in his own case, and he constantly falls his 
own victim, beneath his passion for uncharita- 
ble^ criticism. Also like his son, though more 
intermittently and in a less degree, he is pos- 
sessed of the devil of suspiciousness, constantly 
conceiving himself to be the object of limitless 
envy, malice, hostility, and of the most ignoble 


undermining processes. As a young man he 
often imagined that his neighbors and acquaint* 
ances were resolved that he should not get on 
in the world, though it does not appear that he 
encountered any peculiar or exceptional obsta- 
cles of this kind. But to his credit it may be 
noted that in his early years he had a knowl- 
edge of these weaknesses of his disposition. 
He wishes that he could conquer his " natural 
pride and self^cjonc eit ; expect no more defer- 
ence from my fellows than I deserve ; acquire 
meekness and humility," etc. He acknowledges 
having been too ready with M ill-natured re- 
marks upon the intellectuals, manners, practice, 
etc., of other people." He wisely resolves " for 
the future, never to say an ill-natured thing 
concerning ministers or the ministerial profes- 
sion ; never to say an envious thing concerning 
governors, judges, clerks, sheriffs, lawyers, or 
any other honorable or lucrative offices or offi- 
cers ; never to show my own importance or su- 
periority by remarking the foibles, vices, or in- 
feriority of others. But I now resolve, as far as 
lies in me, to take notice chiefly of the amiable 
qualities of other people ; to put the most favor- 
able construction upon the weaknesses, bigotry, 
and errors of others, etc. ; and to labor more for 
an inoffensive and amiable than for a shining 
and invidious character ; " — most wise com 


munings, showing an admirable introspection, 
yet resolves which could not at present be con- 
sistently carried out by their maker. Adams's 
nature, bot h in its good and in its i ll traits, 
was far^ too strong to be greatly re-shaped by 
any efforts which he could make . The ele- 
ments of his powerful character were immuta- 
ble, and underwent no substantial and perma- 
nent modifications either through voluntary ef- 
fort or by the pressure of circumstances ; in all 
important points he was the same from the 
cradle to the grave, with perhaps a brief ex- 
c eption during the earlier period of his service 
in _the Revolutionary Congress, when we shall 
see him rising superior to all his foibles, and 
presenting a wonderfully noble appearance. 
The overweening vanity, which became a ridic- 
ulous disfigurement after he had climbed high 
upon the ladder of distinction, was not yet ex- 
cessive while he still lingered upon the first 
rounds. Indeed, he is shrewd enough to say : 
" Vanity, I am sensible, is my cardinal vice 
and cardinal folly ; " and he even has occa- 
sional fits of genuine diffidence of his own pow- 
ers and distrust as to his prospects of moder- 
ate success. Only when that success actually 
came did all chance of curing himself of the 
fault disappear. As a young man he cherished 
nd lofty ambition, or at least he kept it mod< 


estly in the background. He does not at all 
resemble his rival of later years, Alexander 
Hamilton ; he is conscious of no extraordinary 
ability, and longs for no remarkable career, nor 
asserts any fitness for it. His anticipations, 
even his hopes, seem limited to achieving that 
measure of prosperity, good repute, and influ- 
ence, which attend upon the more prominent 
men of any neighborhood. A circuit of forty 
miles around Boston is a large enough sphere, 
beyond which his dreams of the future do not 

A youth who had received a collegiate edu- 
cation at a cost of not inconsiderable sacrifice 
on the part of his parents, lay in those days 
under a sort of moral obligation to adopt a pro* 
fession. Between law, divinity, and jnedicine, 
therefore, Adams had to make his choice. Fur- 
ther, while contemplating the subject and pre- 
paring himself for one of these pursuits he 
ought to support himself. To this end he ob- 
tained the position of master of the grammar 
school at Worcester, whither he repaired in the 
summer of 1755. His^first tend ency w as to 
become a clergyman, not so much, apparently, 
by reason of any strong fancy for the clerical 
calling as because there seems to have been a 
sort of understanding on the part of his family 
and friends that he should make this selection, 

YOUTH. 11 

and lie was willing enough to gratify them. 
It was not altogether so singular and foolish a 
notion as at first it strikes us. The_New Eng- 
land clergy still retained much of the prestige 
and influence which they had enjoyed in the 
earlier colonial days, when they had exercised 
a civil authority often overshadowing that of 
the nominal officers of government. Men of 
great ability and strong character still found 
r oom f or their aspirations in the ministry. 
They were a set to be respected, obeyed, even 
to some extent to be feared, but hardly to be 
loved, and vastly unlike the Christian minister 
of the present day. They we re not required 
to be sweet-tempered, nor addicted to lovin g- 
kindness, nor to be charitably disposed towards 
o ne another, or indeed towards anybody . On 
the contrary, they were a dictatorial, militant, 
polemical, not to say a quarrelsome and harsh- 
tongued race. They were permitted and even 
encouraged to display much vigor in speech and 
action. Nevertheless the figure of impetuous, 
dogmatic, combative, opinionated, energetic, 
p ractical, and witha l liberal John Adams in a 
pulpit is exceedingly droll . He was much too 
big, too enterprising, too masterful for such a 
cage. He would have resembled the wolf of 
the story, who could never keep himself wholly 
covered by the old dame's cloak. His irrepress- 


ibly secular nature would have been constantly 
protruding at one point or another from be- 
neath the clerical raiment. It would have been 
inevitable that sooner or later he should escape 
altogether from the uncongenial thraldom, at 
the cost of a more or less serious waste of time 
and somewhat ridiculous process of change. 
Fortunately his good sense or sound instinct 
saved him from a too costly blunder. Yet for 
many months his diary is sprinkled with re- 
marks concerning the flinty theology, and the 
intense, though very unchristian, Christianity^ 
of those days. Nevertheless the truth con- 
stantly peeps out ; disputatious enough, and 
severe upon backslidings, he appears not suffi- 
ciently narrow in intellect and merciless in dis- 
position ; he could not squeeze himself within 
the rigid confines which hemmed in the local 
divine. It is t o no purpose tha t_iia_JCgsolves 
" to rise with the sun and to study the Scrip- 
tures on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sun- 
day mornings,' ' and that occasionally he writes 
" Scripture poetry industriously " of a morning. 
The effort is too obvious. Xetjie._was relig- 
iously inclined. The great Lisbon earthquake 
of 1755, which filled Europe with infidels, in- 
spired him with a sense of religious awe. " God 
Almighty," he says, " has exerted the strength 
of his tremendous arm, and shook one of the 

YOUTH. 13 

finest, richest, and most populous cities in 
Europe into ruin and destruction by an earth- 
quake. The gre atest part of Europe and the 
greatest part of America have been in violent 
convulsions, and admonished the inhabitants of 
both that neither riches nor honors nor the 
solid globe itself is a proper basis on which to 
build our hopes of security." The Byronic pe- 
riod of his youth even takes a religious form. 
He gloomily reflects that : — 

" One third of our time is consumed in sleep, and 
three sevenths of the remainder is spent in procuring 
a mere animal sustenance ; and if we live to the age 
of three-score and ten, and then sit down to make an 
estimate in our minds of the happiness we have en- 
joyed and the misery we have suffered, we shall find, 
I am apt to think, that the overbalance of happi- 
ness is quite inconsiderable. We shall find that we 
have been, through the greater part of our lives, pur- 
suing shadows, and empty but glittering phantoms, 
rather than substances. We shall find that we have 
applied our whole vigor, all our faculties, in the pur- 
suit of honor or wealth or learning, or some other 
such delusive trifle, instead of the real and everlast- 
ing excellences of piety and virtue. Habits of con- 
templating the Deity and his transcendent excel- 
lences, and correspondent habits of complacency in 
and dependence upon Him ; habits of reverence and 
gratitude to God, and habits of love and compassion 
to our fellow-men, and habits of temperance, recolleo 


tion, and self-government, will afford us a real and 
substantial pleasure. We may then exult in a con- 
sciousness of the favor of God and the prospect of 
everlasting felicity." 

A young man of twenty who, in our day, 
should write in this strain would be thought fit 
for nothing better than the church ; but Adams 
was really at war with the prevalent church 
spirit of New England. Thus one evening in 
a conversation with Major Greene " about the 
divinity and satisfaction of Jesus Christ," the 
majcr advanced the argument that " a mere 
creature or finite being could not make satis- 
faction to infinite justice for any crimes," and 
suggested that " these things are very mysteri- 
ous." Adams's crisp commentary was : " Thus 
mystery is made a convenient cover for absurd- 
ity." Again he asks : " Where do we find 
a precept in the gospel requiring ecclesiasti- 
cal synods ? convocations ? councils ? decrees ? 
creeds ? confessions ? oaths ? subscriptions ? and 
whole cart-loads of other trumpery that we 
find religion incumbered with in these days ? " 
Independence in thought and expression soon 
caused him to be charged with the heinous un- 
soundness of Arminianism, an accusation which 
he endeavored neither to palliate nor deny, but 
quite cheerfully admitted. A few such com- 
ments, more commerce even with the tiny colo* 

YOUTH. 15 

nial world around him, a little thinking and 
discussion upon doctrinal points, sufficed for his 
shrewd common sense, and satisfied him that 
he was not fitted to labor in the ministerial 
vineyard as he saw it platted and walled in. 
Accordingly, upon August 21, 1756, he defi- 
nitely renounced the scheme. On the follow- 
ing day he writes gravely in his diary : — 

" Yesterday I completed a contract with Mr. Put- 
nam to study law under his inspection for two years. 
. . . Necessity drove me to this determination, but 
my inclination, I think, was to preach ; however, that 
would not do. But I set out with firm resolutions, I 
think, never to commit any meanness or injustice in 
the practice of law. The study and practice of law, 
I am sure, does not dissolve the obligations of mo- 
rality or of religion; and, although the reason of my 
quitting divinity was my opinion concerning some dis- 
puted points, I hope I shall not give reason of offense 
to any in that profession by imprudent warmth." 

Thus fortunately for himself and for the peo- 
ple of the colonies, Adanis esca ped the first 
peril which threatened the abridgment of his 
great usefulness. Yet the choice was not made 
without opposition from " uncles and other re- 
lations, full of the most illiberal prejudices 
against the law." Adams says that he had "a 
proper .veneration and affection " for these rel- 
atives, but that being " under no obligation of 


gratitude " to them he " thought little of their 
opinions." Young men nowadays are little 
apt to be controlled by uncles or even aunts in 
such matters, but John Adams's independence 
was more characteristic of himself than of those 



On August 23, 1756, Adams says that he 
" came to Mr. Putnam's and began law, and 
studied not very closely this week." But he 
was no sluggard in any respect save that he 
was fond of lying abed late of mornings. Jus- 
tinian's Institutes with Vinnius's Notes, the 
works of Bracton, Britton, Fleta, Glanville, 
and all the other ponderous Latin tomes be- 
hind which the law of that day lay intrenched, 
yielded up their wisdom to his persistency. He 
had his hours of relaxation, in which be smoked 
his pipe, chatted with Dr. Savil's wife, and read 
her Ovid's " Art of Love," a singular volume, 
truly, for a young Puritan to read aloud with 
a lady! Yet in, the main he was a hard stu- 
dent ; so that by October, 1758, he was ready to 
begin business, and came to Boston to consult 
with Jeremiah Gridley, the leader and "father '' 
of that bar, as to the necessary steps " for an 
introduction to the practice of law in this coun- 
try." Gridley was very kind with the young 


man, who seems to have shown upon this occa- 
sion a real and becoming bashf ulness. Among 
other pieces of advice the shrewd old lawyer 
gave to the youngster these two: first, "to pur^ 
sue the study of the law rather than the gain of 
it ; pursue the gain of it enough to keep out oi. 
the briars, but give your main attention to the 
study of it;" second, "not to marry early, 
for an early marriage will obstruct your im- 
provement, and in the. next place it will involve 
you in expense." On Monday, November 6, 
the same distinguished friend, with a few words 
of kindly presentation, recommended Adams to 
the court for the oath. This formality being 
satisfactorily concluded, says Adams, " I shook 
hands with the bar, and received their congrat- 
ulations, and invited them over to Stone's to 
drink some punch, where the most of us re- 
sorted and had a very cheerful chat." Through 
this alcoholic christening the neophyte was in- 
troduced into the full communion of the breth- 
ren, and thereafter it only remained for him to 
secure clients. He had not to wait quite so 
long for these trailing-footed gentry as is often 
the wearisome lot of young lawyers ; for the 
colonists were a singularly litigious race, suing 
out writs upon provocations which in these 
good-natured days would hardly be thought to 
justify hard words, unconsciously training that 



contradictory and law-loving temper which 
really went far to bring about the quarrels with 
Parliament, so soon to occur. Fees were small, 
mercifully adapted not to discourage the poor- 
est client, so that the man who could not afford 
" to take the law " might as well at once seek 
the tranquil shelter of the " town farm." Ac- 
cordingly, though Adams was anxious and oc- 
casionally dispirited, he seems to have done 
very well. 

He had many admirable qualifications for 
success, of which by no means the least was his 
firm resolution to succeed ; for throughout his 
life any resolution which he seriously made was 
pretty sure to be carried through. He was, of 
course, honest, trustworthy, and industrious ; 
he exacted of himself the highest degree of 
care and skill ; he cultivated as well as he 
could the slender stock, of tact with which na- 
ture had scantily endowed him ; more useful 
traits, not needing cultivation, w^i^^^J^I^rn- 
rtess and combativeness which made him a ha rd 

m an to beat at the bar aA_a.ft.Prwa.vrla in politi- 
cal life. Tr, a wnW^ h e was sure to gpet clients. 
and^soon did so. He followed the first part of 
Gridley's advice to such good purpose that he 
afterwards said »• " I believe no lawyer in Amer- 
ica ever did so much business as I did after- 
wards, in the seventeen years that I passed in 


the practice at the bar, for so little profit." 
Yet this " little profit " was enough to enable 
him to treat more lightly Gridley's second 
item, for on October 25, 1764, he took to him- 
self a wife. The lady was Abigail Smith, 
daughter of William Smith, a clergyman in the 
neighboring town of Weymouth, and of his 
wife, Elizabeth (Quincy) Smith. But the mat- 
rimonial venture was far fro m proving an 
"obstruction to improvement;" for u by this 
marriage John Adams became allied with a nu- 
merous connection of families, among the most 
respectable for their weight and influence ia 
the province, and it was immediately percep- 
tible in the considerable increase of his profes- 
sional practice." In other respects, also, it was 
a singularly happy union. Mrs. Adams was a 
woman of unusually fine mind and noble char- 
acter, and proved herself a most able helpmate 
and congenial comrade for her husband through- 
out the many severe trials as well as in the 
brilliant triumphs of his long career. Not often 
does fate allot to a great man a domestic part- 
ner so fit to counsel and sustain as was Abigail 
Adams, whose memory deserves to be, as indeed 
it still is, held in high esteem and admiration. 

History depicts no race less fitted by charac- 
ter, habits, and traditions to endure oppression 


than the colonists of New England. Numeri- 
cally the chief proportion of them, and in point 
of influence nearly all who were worthy of 
consideration, were allied with the men who 
had successfully defied and overthrown the 
British monarchy. The surroundings and mode 
of life of settlers in a new country had per- 
mitted no deterioration in the physical courage 
and hardihood of that class which, in Crom- 
well's army, had constituted as fine a body of 
troops as the world has seen to the present day. 
It was simply impossible to affect New Eng- 
landers through the sense of fear. Far removed 
from the sight of monarchical power, and from 
contact with the offensive display of aristoc- 
racy, they had ceased to hate this form of gov- 
ernment and even entertained feelings of loy- 
alty and attachment towards it. But these 
sentiments throve only upon the condition of 
good treatment ; and on the instant when 
harshness destroyed the sense of reciprocity the 
good will of the dependent body disappeared. 
Even while the rebellious temper slumbered, 
the independent spirit had been nourished by 
all the conditions of social, intellectual, even of 
civil life. The chief officers of government 
had been sent over from England, and some 
legislation had taken place in Parliament ; but 
the smaller laws and regulations, which, with 


the ministers thereof, touched the daily lives 
and affairs of the people, had been largely es- 
tablished by the colonists themselves. They 
were a thinking race, intelligent, disputatious, 
and combative. The religion which absorbed 
much of their mental activity had cherished 
these qualities ; and though their creed was nar- 
row, rigid, and severe, yet they did not accept 
it like slaves of a hierarchy, without thought 
and criticism. On the contrary, their theology 
was notably polemical, and discussion and dis- 
pute on matters of doctrine were the very es- 
sence of their Christianity. Their faith con- 
stituted a sort of gymnasium or arena for the 
constant matching of strength and skill. They 
were ready at every sort of intellectual combat. 
The very sternness of their beliefs was the ex- 
ponent of their uncompromising spirit, the out- 
growth of a certain fierceness of disposition, and 
by no means a weight or pall which had set- 
tled down upon their faculties of free thought. 
Men with such bodies, minds, and morals, not 
slow to take offense, quick to find arguments 
upon their own side, utterly fearless, and of 
most stubborn mettle, furnished poor material 
for the construction of a subservient class. 
Moreover, they were shrewd, practical men of 
business, with the aptitude of the Anglo-Saxon 
for affairs, and with his taste for money-getting, 


his proneness for enterprise, his passion for 
worldly success ; hence they were very sensi- 
tive to any obstacle cast in the way of their 
steady progress towards material prosperity. 
The king and the ruling classes of Great Brit- 
ain had no comprehension whatsoever of all 
these distinguishing traits of the singular race 
with whom they undertook to deal upon a sys- 
tem fundamentally wrong, and of which every 
development and detail was a blunder. 

In nearly every respect John Adams was a 
typical New En^lander of the ^mes j jtf jeaat 
it may be said that in no one individual did the 
colonial character find a more respectable or a 
more comprehensible development than in him, 
so that to understand and appreciate him is to 
understand and appreciate the New England 
of his day ; and to draw him is to draw the col- 
onists in their best form. It was inevitable 
from the outset that he should be a patriot ; if 
men of his mind and . temper could hesitate, 
there could be no material out of which to con- 
struct a ki liberty party" in the province. At 
first, of course, older and better known men 
took the lead, and he, still a parvus lulus, was 
fain to follow with unequal steps the vigorous 
strides of the fiery Otis, and of that earliest of 
genuine democrats, Samuel Adams. But the 
career of Otis was like the electric flash which 



so appropriately slew him, brief, brilliant, start- 
ling, sinking into melancholy darkness ; and 
John Adams pressed steadily forward, first to 
the side of his distinguished cousin, and erelong 
in advance of him. 

It was in 1761 that Otis delivered his daring 
and famous argument against the writs of as- 
sistance. This was the first log of the pile 
which afterward made the great blaze of the 
Revolution. John Adams had the good for- 
tune to hear that bold and stirring speech, and 
came away from the impressive scene all aglow 
with patriotic ardor. The influence of such 
free and noble eloquence upon the young man 
was tremendous. As his son classically puts it: 
" It was to Mr. Adams like the oath of Ham- 
ilcar administered to Hannibal." He took 
some slight notes of the argument at the time, 
and in his old age he proved the indelible im- 
pression which it had made upon him, by writ- 
ing out the vivid story. His memoranda, 
though involving some natural inaccuracies, 
constitute the best among the meagre records 
of this important event. He said afterward 
that at this scene he had witnessed the birth of 
American Independence. " American Inde- 
pendence was then and there born. The seeds 
of patriots and heroes, to defend the non sine 
diis animosus iwfqns, to defend the vigorous 


youth, were then and there sown . Every man 
of an immense, crowded audience appeared to 
me to go away, as I did, ready to take arms 
against writs of assistance. Then and there 
was the first scene of the first act of opposition 
to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then 
and there the child Independence was borm 
In fifteen years, i. e., in 1776, he grew up to 
manhood and declared himself free." Such im- 
passioned language, written in the tranquillity 
of extreme age nearly three-score years after the 
occurrence, shows what feelings were aroused 
at the time. The seed which Otis flung into v 
the mind of this youth fell upon a sufficiently 
warm and fertile soil. 

Tn this jnitia.1 struggle of the writs of assis t- 
an p.p. thp. royal government o btained a nominal 

victory in the affirma tion of the technical legal- 

* ■ i • ■ - „ i „ , p 

ity of the process ; but the colonists enjoyed 
the substance of success, since the attempt to 
issue t he obnoxious writ was no t repeated. 

.... i. .... . 

The troubled waters, not being soon again dis- 
turbed, recovered their usual placidity of sur- 
face, but the strong under-current of popular 
thought and temper had been stimulated not in 
the direction of loyalty. From the day of 
Otis's argument Adams, for his part, remained 
a patriot through his very marrow. Yet he 
continued to give close attention to his own 


professional business, which he steadily in- 
creased. Gradually he gained that repute and 
standing among his fellow citizens which care- 
ful study, sound sense, and a strong character 
are sure in time to secure. He held from time 
to time some of the smaller local offices which 
indicate that a young man is well thought of 
by his neighbors. Such was his position when 
in 1765 the Stamp Act set the province in a 
flame and launched him, altogether unexpect- 
edly, upon that public career which was to en- 
dure to the end of his active years. This mo- 
mentous piece of legislation was passed in Par- 
liament innocently and thoughtlessly enough 
by a vote of 294 to 49, in March, 1765. It 
was to take effect on November 1 of the same 
year. But the simple-minded indifference of 
the English legislators was abundantly offset 
by the rage of the provincials. The tale of the 
revolt is too familiar to be repeated; every 
child knows how the effigy of stamp-distribu- 
tor Oliver was first hanged and then burned ; 
how he himself was compelled by the zealous 
" Sons of Liberty " to resign his office ; how 
his place of business was demolished ; how his 
house and the houses of Hutchinson and of 
other officials were sacked by the mob. These 
extravagant doings, disgusted Adams, whose 
notions of resistance were widely different. In 


his own town of Braintree lie took the lead of 
the malcontents ; he drew up and circulated 
for signatures a petition to the selectmen, ask- 
ing for a town-meeting, at which he presented 
a draft of instructions to the representative of 
the town in the colonial General Court. These, 
being carried unanimously, were " published 
in Draper's paper, and . . . adopted by forty 
other towns of the province as instructions to 
their respective representatives." Adams be- 
came a man of prominence. 

When the time came for putting the new 
statute in operation, divers expedients for evad- 
ing it were resorted to. But Chief Justice 
Hutchinson in the county of Suffolk prevented 
the opening of the courts there and the trans- 
action of business without stamps. On De- 
cember 18 Adams wrote gloomily : — 

" The probate office is shut, the custom house is 
shut, the courts of justice are shut, and all business 
seems at a stand. ... I have not drawn a writ since 
the first of November. . . . This long interval of in- 
dolence and idleness will make a large chasm in my 
affairs, if it should not reduce me to distress and in- 
capacitate me to answer the demands upon me. . . . 
I was but just getting into my gears, just getting 
under sail, and an embargo is laid upon the ship. 
Thirty years of my life are passed in preparation for 
business. ... I have groped in dark obscurity till 


of late, and had but just become known and gained a 
small degree of reputation when this execrable proj- 
ect was set on foot for my ruin as well as that of 
America in general, and of Great Britain." 

Adams was not alone in feeling the stress of 
this enforced cessation of all business. On the 
very day when he was writing these grievous 
forebodings a town-meeting was holding in Bos- 
ton, at which a memorial was adopted, pray- 
ing the governor and council to remove the 
fatal obstruction out of the way of the daily 
occupations of the people. The next day news 
came to Mr. Adams at Braintree that he had 
been associated with the venerable Jeremiah 
Gridley and James Otis as counsel for the town 
to support this memorial. This politico-pro- 
fessional honor, which was the greater since he 
was not a citizen of Boston, surprised him and 
caused him no little perturbation. He saw in 
it some personal peril, and, what he dreaded 
much more, a sure opposition to his profes- 
sional advancement on the part of the govern- 
ment and the numerous body of loyalists. 
Moreover, he distrusted his capacity for so mo- 
mentous and responsible a task. But there is 
no instance in Adams's life when either fear of 
consequences or modesty seriously affected his 
action. Upon this occasion he did not hesitate 
an instant. "I am now/' he at once declared. 


"under all obligations of interest and ambi- 
tion, as well as honor, gratitude, and duty, to 
exert the utmost of my abilities in this impor- 
tant cause." On the evening of the very next 
day, with no possibility for preparation, with 
few hours even for thought or consultation, the 
three lawyers were obliged to make their argu- 
ments before the governor and council. Mr. 
Adams had to speak first. " Then it fell upon 
me," he said, " without one moment's oppor- 
tunity to , cons alt any authorities, to open an 
argument upon a question that was never made 
before, and I wish I could hope it never would 
be made again, that is, whether the courts of 
law should be open or not." 

John Quincy Adams alleges, not without 
justice, that his father placed the demands of 
the colonists upon a stronger, as well as upon 
a more daring basis than did either of his col- 
leagues. " Mr. Otis reasoned with great learn- 
ing and zeal on the judges' oaths, etc., Mr. 
Gridley on the great inconveniences that would 
ensue the interruption of justice." Mr. Adams, 
though advancing also points of expediency, 
" grounded his argument on the invalidity of 
the Stamp Act, it not being in any sense our 
Act, having never consented to it." This was 
recognized as the one sufficient and unanswer- 
able statement of the colonial position from 


this time forth to the day of Independence — • 
the injustice and unlawfulness of legislation, 
especially for taxation, over persons not repre- 
sented in the legislature. But in British ears 
such language was rebellious, even revolution- 

No historian has conceived or described the 
condition of affairs, of society, of temper and 
feeling, at least in the southern part of this 
country, at the time of the Stamp Act, with 
anything like the accuracy and vividness which 
illuminate the closing pages of " The Virgin- 
ians." With a moderation happily combined 
with force, and with a frank recognition of the 
way he would have been struck by his own ar- 
guments had he listened to them from the 
other side, Thackeray puts into the mouth of 
George Warrington the English justification of 
English policy. It may be admitted that, if 
Parliament could not tax the colonists, then 
there was the case of a government which 
could exact no revenue from its subjects, and 
which, therefore, could only take with thanks 
their voluntary contributions. In any theory 
of government such a proposition is an absurd- 
ity. It may further be admitted that English- 
men " at home " were a much more heavily 
taxed community than there was any endeavor 
to make the expatriated colonial Englishmen, 


It is also true that Great Britain acknowledged 
and performed reasonably well the duties 
which are part of the function of government. 
Against these weighty arguments there was 
but one which could prevail, and that was the 
broad and fundamental one advanced by Mr. 
Adams ; it reached deeper than any of the 
English arguments, it came before them and 
settled the controversy before one could get to 
them. Great Britain said : a government with- 
out a power of taxation is an impossible ab- 
surdity. The c olonies replied with a still ear> 
lier fact : but taxation cannot be exercised 
without representation. The truth at the very 
bottom was fortunately the American truth ; 
and this Mr. Adams saw clearly and said 
boldly, so that the " liberty party" never for- 
got the exposition. There was a question 
which he did not shirk, though he contem- 
plated it with something like a shudder. If 
there cou ld be no , gft y gfnrae^t without taxation, 
an d no taxation without representation, and 
there was no chance thaTTfepresentation would 
be conce^edp^^'whatnnTeh ? Only independ- 
ence. Such a chain of logic was enough to 
make so thoughtful a man as Adams very se- 
rious, and one is not surprised to find these 
brief, pregnant entries in his diary : — 

" Sunday. At home with my family, thinking." 


" Christmas. At home, thinking, reading, search- 
ing, concerning taxation without consent." 

But he never had any doubt of the sound- 
ness of his position. He reiterated it after- 
wards in court in behalf of John Hancock, who 
was sued for duties on a cargo of madeira 
wine, wmich had been landed at night, smug- 
gler-fashion. Adams, as counsel for the de- 
fendant, impugned the statute because " it was 
made without our consent. My client, Mr. 
Hancock, never consented to it ; he never v oted 
for it himself, and he never voted for any man 
to make such a law for him." This cause, by 
the way, gave Adams plenty of business for 
one winter, since the government lawyers 
seemed " determined to examine the whole 
towm as witnesses." It was finally disposed of 
in a manner less formal, though not less effec- 
tive, than the usual docket-entry, " by the bat- 
tle of Lexington." 

By the share which he took in this business 
of the Stamp Act, Adams conclusively cast in 
his lot with the patriot party, and thereafter 
stood second only to such older leaders as Otis, 
Samuel Adams, and Hancock. He continued, 
however, to devote himself sedulously to his 
law business, accepting only the not very oner- 
ous public office of selectman in the spring of 
1766. He was advised to apply to the gov 


ernor for the position of justice of the peace, 
then a post of substantial honor and value. 
But he refused to do so, because he feared that 
a " great fermentation of the country " was at 
hand, and he had no fancy for hampering him- 
self with any " obligations of gratitude." 

Early in 1768, through the persuasion of 
friends, he removed to Boston, and occupied the 
" White House," so called, in Brattle Square, 
taking the step, however, not without misgiv- 
ings on the score of his health, which at this 
time was not good and gave him no little con- 
cernment. He had not been long in his new 
quarters when his friend, Jonathan Sewall, at- 
torney general of the province, called upon 
him and, with many flattering words as to his 
character and standing at the bar, offered him 
the post of advocate general in the court of 
admiralty. It was a lucrative office, " a sure 
introduction to the most profitable business in 
the province, ... a first step in the ladder of 
royal favor and promotion." Unquestionably 
the proposal was insidious, since the policy of 
such indirect bribes was systematically pursued 
at this juncture by Bernard and Hutchinson. 
But Sewall endeavored, of course, to gloss over 
the purport of his errand by stating that he was 
specially instructed by the governor to say that 

there was no design to interfere with Adams's 


well-known political sympathies. Words, how* 
ever, could not conceal the too obvious trap. 
Adams was prompt and positive in his refusal. 
Sewall declined to take No for an answer, and 
returned again to the charge a few weeks later. 
But he gathered nothing by his persistence. 
It was time lost to endeavor to mould a man 
whose distinguishing trait was a supreme stub- 
bornness, which became preeminently invinci- 
ble upon any question of personal independ- 

In October, 1768, the two regiments which 
Hutchinson had advised the King's ministers to 
send over debarked and marched through Bos- 
ton town " with muskets charged, bayonets 
fixed, drums beating, fifes playing," and all the 
circumstance of war ! Overflowing their bar- 
racks, these unwelcome guests took possession 
of the town-house and other public buildings, 
and by their cannon commanded the state- 
house and court-house. The officers certainly 
endeavored to maintain a conciliatory bearing 
and kept the troops creditably quiet and or- 
derly. But it was impossible to give an ami- 
able complexion to a military occupation. The 
townspeople obstinately regarded the red-coats 
as triumphant invaders, and hated, and, it must 
be confessed, taunted them continually as such. 
The odrousness of the situation was especially 


forced upon Adams by the daily drill of a regi- 
ment in the great square before his house. But 
in the evening the " Sons of Liberty " point- 
edly sought to cleanse his ears from the offense 
of the British military music, by serenading 
beneath his windows. Long afterwards, writ- 
ing of this time, recalling the confidence placed 
in him by the patriots and his resolve not to 
disappoint them, Adams said : " My daily re- 
flections for two years at the sight of those 
soldiers before my door were serious enough. 
. . . The danger I was in appeared in full view 
before me ; and I very deliberately and indeed 
very solemnly determined at all events to ad- 
here to my principles in favor of my native 
country, which, indeed, was all the country I 
knew, or which had been known by my father, 
grandfather, or great-grandfather." Yet he 
held himself in prudent restraint, and declined 
to attend or speak at the town meetings. 
" That way madness lies," he used to say, with 
a reference to the sad condition of Otis. Yet 
he was destined to perform a singularly trying 
task in connection with these same red-coats, 
in spite of his desire to stand aloof from any 
public appearance. 

It was a mere question of time when a seri- 
ous collision with the troops should take place. 
It came at last, as every one knows, upon the 


memorable evening of March 5, 1770, in the 
shape of the famous " Boston Massacre." On 
that fatal day a crowd of the disorderly loafers 
and boys of the town, with their natural weap- 
ons of sticks and stones, so threatened and 
abused the solitary sentry pacing upon King 
Street that he called for aid. To his summons 
speedily responded Captain Preston, bringing 
six more soldiers. The force of the civilian 
tormentors also received large accessions. The 
mob, pressing angrily upon the officer and his 
little force, so far alarmed them that they fired a 
volley. Each musket was loaded with two balls, 
and each ball found its human mark. Five 
men were slain outright ; others were wounded. 
Forthwith the whole regiment turned out and 
formed in defensive array across the street upon 
the northerly side of the town-house. Before 
it a great and unterrified crowd swelled and 
raged. An awful conflict was impending. 
Fortunately Hutchinson appeared upon the 
scene, and by wise words checked the tumult 
at its present stage. He promised that the 
officer and the men should at once be placed 
under arrest and tried for murder. The peo- 
ple, with the native respect of their race fctf 
law, were satisfied, and further bloodshed was 
averted. During the night Preston and the 
soldiers were arrested. 


The very next morning, the heat of the tur- 
moil still seething, there came into Mr. Adams's 
office one Forrest, pleasantly nick-named the 
44 Irish infant." This emissary was charged to 
induce Adams to act as counsel for the accused, 
and he evidently expected to find his task dif- 
ficult of accomplishment ; but Adams acceded 
to the request as soon as it was preferred, mak- 
ing some remarks to the point of professional 
duty, trite and commonplace in their ethical 
aspect, but honorably distinguished in that 
they were backed by instant action at a mo- 
ment of grave trial. With him acted Josiah 
Quincy, junior, then a young man lately called 
to the bar. It was no welcome duty which 
professional obligation and perhaps still higher 
sentiments thus thrust upon these two lawyers. 
It has been suggested that the choice of Mr. 
Adams, especially, was due to the astute cow- 
ardice of Hutchinson, who wished first to hand- 
icap a strong patriot by rendering him an ob- 
ject of suspicion among the less reasonable mal- 
contents, and next, in case of being ultimately 
compelled to pardon the accused men, to in- 
terpose between himself and an angry people 
the character and influence of the most highly 
considered lawyer on the popular side. It 
may well be supposed, however, that Captain 
Preston, on trial for his life amid strange and 


hostile surroundings, selected his counsel with 
a single eye to his own interest. Mr. C. F. 
Adams regards this engagement in this cause 
as constituting one of the four great moral 
trials and triumphs marking his grandfather's 
career. Undoubtedly it was so. It was not 
only that, so far as his own feelings were con- 
cerned, the position was odious, but he was 
called upon to risk losing the well-earned con- 
fidence of those of his fellow townsmen with 
whom he was in profound sympathy in matters 
of momentous importance ; to imperil a repu- 
tation and popularity won by twelve long years 
of honest labor, and necessary to his success 
and even to his livelihood. It is difficult to ad- 
mire too highly the spirit which saw no cause 
even for an hour's hesitation in the sudden de- 
mand for such sacrifices. That he was un- 
questionably right is now so evident that it is 
hard to appreciate that he could have incurred 
great censure and peril at the time. Yet this 
was the case. The cooler and more intelligent 
patriots could be counted upon to appreciate 
the case justly, and in time also a large propor- 
tion of the party would follow. But at first 
there was a great clamor of rebuke and wrath. 
Even Josiah Quincy, senior, a man from whom, 
if from any one, better judgment might have 
been anticipated, wrote to his son a letter min- 


gled of incredulity, indignation, and remon- 
strance. It seems ridiculous to find that long 
years afterwards, after the Revolution, after 
Adams had signed the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence, had been insulted at the English 
Court, and had served as vice-president with 
Washington, this legal service of his was 
dragged out by his opponents as evidence of his 
subjection to British influence ; yet such folly 
actually occurred. 

The trial of Preston began October 24, and 
closed October 30. It resulted in an acquittal, 
since it was of course impossible to adduce sat- 
isfactory evidence that he had given the com- 
mand to fire. The trial of the soldiers fol- 
lowed, which a short-hand writer endeavored 
to report ; but he failed lamentably in catching 
the tenor of the counsel's arguments. Of these 
defendants all were acquitted save two, who 
were found guilty of manslaughter. They 
claimed their privilege of clergy, ^nd so saved 
their lives ; but were branded on the hand 
with a hot iron, a disgrace which they keenly 
felt to be undeserved, and which won for them 
the honest sympathy of Mr. Adams. It may 
be remarked that Adams was much annoyed 
at a story, to which a sort of corroboration was 
afterward given by some unfair language of 
Hutchinson in his history, that his motive in 


engaging for the prisoners came in the shape 
of a large fee. I n fact, his ent ire r emunera- 
tion for all services rendered to all Lis eight 
clients was only nineteen guineas, which were 
not accompanied or followed by so much_as 
even a courteous word of thanks from Preston. 
But he had the comfort of appreciating the 
character of his own conduct at least as well 
as if he were judging the behavior of another 
person. He said of it, two or three years later : 
" It was one of the most gallant, manly, and 
disinterested actions of my whole life, and one 
of the best pieces of service I ever renderedjny 
country." So fairly could he at times estimate 
himself and his doings ! 

One gratification, however, was his besides 
the mens conscia recti and the paltry guineas. 
After his acceptance of the position of defend- 
ant's counsel had become known, and before 
the trial, a vacancy occurred in the representa- 
tion of the town of Boston in the General 
Court. Upon June 3 Adams was elected to 
fill this place by the handsome vote of 418 out 
of a total of 536, good evidence that the peo- 
ple had come to their senses concerning the 
true character of his action. But gratifying as 
such a testimonial of popularity was at the mo. 
ment, when he had staked his good repute upon 
a question of principle, yet in other respects 


the honor was less welcome. Heretofore he 
had carefully abstained from entanglement in 
public affairs, contenting himself with a bold 
profession of patriotic sentiment, and shunning 
sedulously that active share which he was often 
and inevitably urged and tempted to assume. 
He had devoted himself with steady and almost 
exclusive persistence to the practice of his pro- 
fession, recognizing no object superior to that. 
Success in this he was already grasping. 
Twelve years he had been in practice, and now 
" had more business at the bar than any man 
in the province." He felt that an entry upon 
a public career would rob him of the ripening 
harvest of his years of toil, that it would expose 
him to anxiety, complications, and personal 
danger, and his family perhaps to poverty. 
His later reminiscence of his feelings upon ac- 
cepting this office is impressively pathetic : — 

" My health was feeble. I was throwing" away as 
bright prospects as any man ever had before him, 
and I had devoted myself to endless labor and anx- 
iety, if not to infamy and to death, and that for noth- 
ing, except what indeed was and ought to be in all 
a sense of duty. In the evening I expressed to Mrs 
Adams all my apprehensions. That excellent lady, 
who has always encouraged me, burst into a flood of 
tears, and said she was very sensible of all the dan- 
ger to her and to our children* as well as to me, but 


she thought I had done as I ought ; she was very 
willing to share in all that was to come, and to place 
her trust in Providence." 

Thus solemnly, with a sense of costly self- 
sacrifice to duty, and with dark presagings, 
Adams consented to enter upon that public 
career which in the inscrutable future proved 
to be laden with such rich rewards for his noble 
courage, and such brilliant confutation of his 
melancholy forebodings. 

This first incursion into the domain of public 
life, undertaken in so grave a temper, was not 
of long duration. Considering the hale and 
prolonged old age which Mr. Adams came to 
enjoy, his health in what should have been vig- 
orous years seems to have given him a surpris- 
ing amount of solicitude. So now, within a 
few months after his election, he fell into such 
a condition with " a pain in his breast, and a 
complaint in his lungs, which seriously threat- 
ened his life," that he felt sure that city life 
was disagreeing with him. Accordingly in the 
spring of 1771, just three years after coming 
to town, he removed his household back to 
Braintree, and of course at the end of his year 
of service he could not again be returned as a 
member from Boston. He was very despond- 
ent at this time. He held the inhabitants of 
Boston in " the most pleasing and grateful re* 


tnembrance." He said : " I wish to God it was 
in my power to serve them, as much as it is 
in my inclination. But it is not; my wishes 
are impotent, my endeavors fruitless and inef- 
fectual to them, and ruinous to myself." He 
fell occasionally into moods of melancholy like 
this, doubtless by reason of ill health. Prob- 
ably also after having tasted the singular fas- 
cination of active concernment in public affairs 
he was not able altogether without regret to 
contemplate his apparent future, with "no 
journeys to Cambridge, no General Court to 
attend," nothing but " law and husbandry." 
He had come to be a man of some note, which 
is always pleasant, whatever disingenuous pro- 
fessions prominent men may sometimes make. 
Already, many months before, when stopping 
at a tavern on his way to Plymouth, he was 
surprised by having a fellow-traveler, unknown 
to him, go out to saddle and bridle his horse 
and hold the stirrup for him, saying, "Mr. 
Adams, as a man of liberty, I respect you ; 
God bless you ! I '11 stand by you while I live, 
and from hence to Cape Cod you won't find ten 
men amiss." Now too, upon coming to Brain- 
tree, the representative from that town, who 
once had been pleased to call Mr. Adams " a 
petty lawyer," complimented him as the " first 
lawyer in the province," and offered to stand 


aside if Mr. Adams would be willing to repre* 
sent Brain tree in the General Court. One 
could not lightly throw away such prestige. 

From the farm at Braintree he rode habit- 
ually to his office in Boston, and by this whole- 
some life regained his good health, and fortu- 
nately suffered no material loss in the popular 
estimation. His interest in colonial affairs con- 
tinued unabated. He set down, for the in- 
struction of his family, " if this wretched jour- 
nal should ever be read " by them, that he was 
the unwavering enemy of Hutchinson and of 
Hutchinson's system, and he predicted that the 
governor had inaugurated a contention, which 
would " never be fully terminated but by wars 
and confusions and carnage." " With great 
anxiety and hazard, with continual application 
to business, with loss of health, reputation, 
profit, and as fair prospects and opportunities 
of advancement as others, who have greedily 
embraced them, I have for ten years together 
invariably opposed this system and its fautors." 
So Pym or Hampden might have spoken con- 
cerning Strafford. But now there came one of 
those lulls in the political storm, when sanguine 
people sometimes think that it has spent its 
force and is to give way to fairer days. Adams 
beheld this with some bewilderment and re« 
gret, but with constancy of spirit. " The me 


{odious harmony, the perfect concords, the en- 
tire confidence and affection that seem to be 
restored, greatly surprise me. Will it be last- 
ing ? I believe there is no man in so curious a 
situation as I am ; I am, for what I can see, 
quite left alone in the world." He had not ? 
however, to wait long before the tranquillity 
passed, the gales were blowing anew more 
fiercely than ever, and the old comrades were 
all in company again. 

In truth, it was ridiculous for Mr. Adams to 
fancy that he could remain permanently a vil- 
lager of Braintree, a long hour's journey from 
Boston. That redoubtable young town, though 
for a while it was making such a commotion in 
the world, had only about 16,000 inhabitants, 
and it could not have been sufficiently metro- 
politan to justify Mr. Adams in fleeing from 
its crowds into the wholesome solitudes of the 
country. It was a morbid notion on his part. 
By the autumn of 1772 he came to this con- 
clusion, and found his health so reestablished 
that he not only moved back to town but ac- 
tually bought a house in Queen Street, near 
the court house. He, however, registered a 
pledge to himself " to meddle not with public 
affairs of town or province. I am determined 
my own life and the welfare of my whole fam- 
ily, which is much dearer to me, are too great 


sacrifices for me to make. I have served my 
country and her professed friends, at an im- 
mense expense to me of time, peace, health, 
money, and preferment, both of which last have 
courted my acceptance and been inexorably re- 
fused, lest I should be laid under a temptation 
to forsake the sentiments of the friends of this 
country. ... I will devote myself wholly to 
my private business, my office and my farm, 
and I hope to lay a foundation for better for- 
tune to my children and a happier life than 
has fallen to my share." Yet these sentiments, 
which he seems not to have kept to himself, 
brought upon him some harsh criticism. James 
Otis, the fiery zealot, one day sneeringly said 
to him, with a bluntness which sounds some- 
what startling in our more cautious day, that 
he would never learn military exercises because 
he had not the heart. " How do you know ? " 
replied Adams. " You never searched my 
heart." " Yes, I have," retorted Otis ; " tired 
with one year's service, dancing from Boston to 
Braintree and from Braintree to Boston ; mop- 
ing about the streets of this town as hypped as 
Father Flynt at ninety, and seemingly regard- 
less of everything but to get money enough to 
carry you smoothly through this world." This 
was the other side of the shield from that upon 
which Mr. Adams was wont to look, and which 


has been shown in the sundry communings 
cited from his diary concerning his sacrifices. 
Otis was impetuous and extravagant of tongue, 
and probably his picture was the less fair of 
the two. Yet truly Mr. Adams appears a little 
absurd in putting on the airs and claiming the 
privileges of " an infirm man," as he calls him- 
self, at the age of thirty-seven. But at times 
he could give way to patriotic outbursts such 
as would not have misbecome even the pungent 
and reckless Otis himself. One evening at Mr. 
Cranch's " I said, there was no more justice 
left in Britain than there was in hell ; that I 
wished for war, and that the whole Bourbon 
family was upon the back of Great Britain ; 
avowed a thorough disaffection to that country ; 
wished that anything might happen to them, 
and, as the clergy prayed of our enemies in 
time of war, that they might be brought to 
reason or to ruin." Yet he was afterward pen- 
itent for this language, and took himself to 
task u with severity, for these rash, inexperi- 
enced, boyish, raw, and awkward expressions. 
A man who has no better government of his 
tongue, no more command of his temper, is un- 
fit for everything but children's play and the 
company of boys," etc., etc. 

In justice to Mr. Adams it should be said 
that, so far as any records show, he had not 


often to blame himself in this manner ; habit- 
ually he was not less moderate than firm and 
courageous. One is greatly struck with the 
change of tone which insensibly steals over the 
diary as the young man, at first having only 
himself to care for, develops into the man of ma- 
ture years with the weighty and difficult inter- 
ests of the province at heart. The tendency to 
selfishness and narrow egotism, the heartburn- 
ings, jealousies, suspicions, carpings, and harsh 
criticisms, which do not give a very amiable im- 
pression of the youth, all disappear as the times 
change. A loftier elevation and finer atmos- 
phere are insensibly reached. A grave, reso- 
lute, anxious air pervades the pages ; a trust 
and sense of comradeship towards fellow pa- 
triots ; almost as much of regret as of rancor 
towards many of those who should be standing 
by the province but are not ; hostility of course, 
but a singular absence of personal abuse and 
acrimony, even towards such men as Hutchin- 
son. No unmeasured rage, no flames of anger 
and ill-considered words, but an immutable 
conviction and a stubborn determination are 
characteristics which he shares with the great 
bulk of the " liberty party." There is no 
excitement exhausting itself with the efferves- 
cence of its own passion, there are no protesta- 
tions too extravagant to be fulfilled ; the exte- 


rior is all coolness, and persistence ; the heat 
glows fiercely far inside. Thus one clearly 
reads in Mr. Adams's diary the temper of his 
coadjutors and of the times ; and if the same 
perusal could have been had in England, it is 
barely possibly that events might have been 
different. Cromwell and the Puritans were 
not in so remote a past that the royal gov- 
ernment could be justified in an utter failure 
to appreciate the moral and mental traits of 
the people of New England, if only those traits 
could once be got beneath the eyes of the king 
and cabinet. But Adams's diary was for him- 
self alone. 



It has been seen that nearly three years be- 
fore the time at which we have now arrived 
Mr. Adams had experienced no small solicitude 
and misgivings when summoned to take a part 
in public life. He had soon escaped from func- 
tions which were really distasteful to him, and 
had gladly resumed the practice of his profes- 
sion and that care for his private interests 
which naturally lay close to the heart of a 
shrewd and prudent man, bred in the practical 
and business-like atmosphere of the New Eng- 
land of those days, and having a wife and chil- 
dren to support. Hitherto lie has been seen 
holding aloof so far as possible from any promi- 
nent and active share in the disturbed and ex- 
citing, but certainly also the perilous politics of 
the times. Even within a few weeks of the 
event which was to make his career perma- 
nently and irrevocably that of the public man, 
he writes to a friend that he can send no inter- 
esting news, because " I have very little con- 


nection with public affairs, and I hope to have 
less." Nevertheless it is perfectly obvious that 
if the services of men having his qualities of 
mind and character could not be commanded 
by the patriots, then the sooner submission was 
made to Great Britain the better. At the 
ripe age of thirty-eight, well read in private 
and in public law, of a temperament happily 
combining prudence and boldness, notably trust- 
worthy, active, and energetic, standing already 
in the front rank of his profession if not ac- 
tually at its head in the province, it was inev- 
itable that he should be compelled to assume 
important and responsible duties in the mo- 
mentous contest so rapidly developing. His 
reluctance was not of the mouth only, not the 
pretended holding back of a man who never- 
theless desired to be driven forward ; he was 
sincere in his shrinking from a prominent po- 
, sition, yet he could surely be counted upon 
\ultimately to take it, because refusal would 
mve been contrary to his nature. 

It was apparently in March, 1774, that Mr. 
Adams was contemplating a project somewhat 
amusing in view of the near future. " Have f 
patience and industry enough," he says, "ttf 
write a history of the contest between Britain 
and America ? It would be proper to begin," 
etc. Comical enough was this proposition for 


writing an historical narrative, before the ma- 
terial even for the introductory chapter had 
been completed. 

A few days later he gives to James Warren 
his opinion : " that there is not spirit enough 
on either side to bring the question to a com- 
plete decision, and that we shall oscillate like 
a pendulum, and fluctuate like the ocean, for 
many years to come, and never obtain a com- 
plete redress of American grievances, nor sub- 
mit to an absolute establishment of parliament- 
ary authority, but be trimming between both, as 
we have been for ten years past, for more years 
to come than you and I shall live. Our chil- 
dren may see revolutions," etc., etc. Evidently 
he was not well pleased at these predictions, 
which his despondent judgment forced from 
him. But the " revolutions," so much more to 
his taste than the "trimming," were already at 
hand. Less than three months later, on June 
17, the provincial assembly was sitting with 
closed doors ; the secretary of the governor, 
with a message for their dissolution in his 
hand, was knocking in vain for admittance, 
while the members were hastily choosing five 
persons to represent Massachusetts at a meet- 
ing of committees from the several colonies to 
be held at Philadelphia on September 1. One 
hundred and seventeen members voted " aye," 


twelve voted " no ; " the doors were opened, 
and the " last provincial assembly that ever 
acted under the royal authority in Massachu- 
setts " was at an end. The five representatives 
to the first Congress of North America were : 
James Bowdoin, Thomas Gushing, Samuel 
Adams, John Adams, and Robert Treat Paine. 
It so happened that at the very hour when this 
nomination was making, John Adams was pre- 
siding at Faneuil Hall over a meeting of citi- 
zens engaged in considering what measures 
should be taken concerning the recent acts of 
Parliament for the destruction of the commerce 
of the town. 

The first glimpse of Mr. Adams's feeling at 
this juncture comes in a few hurried, disjointed 
sentences, written in his diary three days later ; 
he is " in Danvers, bound to Ipswich," still at- 
tending closely to his law business, starting on 
the Eastern circuit. He says : — 

" There is a new and grand scene open before 
me : a Congress. This will be an assembly of the 
wisest men upon the continent, who are Americans 
in principle, that is, against the taxation of Ameri- 
cans by authority of Parliament. I feel myself un- 
equal to this business. A more extensive knowledge 
of the realm, the colonies, and of commerce, as well 
as of law and policy, is necessary, than I am master 
of. What can be done ? Will it be expedient to 


propose an annual Congress of Committees ? to peti- 
tion ? Will it do to petition at all ? — to the King ? 
to the Lords ? to the Commons ? What will such 
consultations avail ? Deliberations alone will not do. 
We must petition, or recommend to the Assemblies 
to petition, or — " 

The alternative to be introduced by this " or " 
gives him pause; it is too terrible, doubtless 
also as yet too little considered in all its vague, 
vast, and multiform possibilities, to be defi- 
nitely shaped in words even on these secret 
pages. He will not be run away with by a 
hasty pen, though his only reader is himself. 
Five days later he comes back from " a long 
walk through . . . corn, rye, grass," and 
writes : — 

" I wander alone and ponder. I muse, I mope, I 
ruminate. I am often in reveries and brown studies. 
The objects before me are too grand and multifari- 
ous for my comprehension. We have not men fit 
for the times. We are deficient in genius, in educa- 
tion, in travel, in fortune, in everything. I feel un- 
utterable anxiety. God grant us wisdom and forti- 
tude ! Should the opposition be suppressed, should 
this country submit, what infamy and ruin ! God 
forbid ! Death in any form is less terrible." 

On June 25 he writes to his friend Warren, 
who had been instrumental in appointing him 
to Congress : — 


" I suppose you sent me there to school. I thank 
you for thinking me an apt scholar, or capable of 
learning. For my own part I am at a loss, totally 
at a loss, what to do when we get there ; but I hope 
to be there taught. It is to be a school of political 
prophets, I suppose, a nursery of American states- 

Mr. Adams estimated with much candor and 
fairness the deficiencies which he recognized as 
likely to stand in the way of his usefulness and 
success in Congress. But in speaking of his 
qualifications he did not mention, and doubt- 
less did not at all appreciate, one fact which 
tuld largely in his favor. In our day men ha- 
bitually go to Congress with only such crude 
training in the oral discussion of public ques- 
tions as they have gained in the juvenile de- 
bating societies of school or college, or possi- 
bly through an occasional appearance " on the 
stump." But Adams had enjoyed the advan- 
tage of a peculiar and singularly admirable 
schooling, and it was only because this had 
been a matter of course in his life ever since 
he had come of age, that he failed now to set 
it down at its true value. He had been accus- 
tomed always to take an active part in the 
town - meetings, that old institution of New 
England, than which nothing finer as a prepar* 
atory school of debate has ever existed in the 


world. In these assemblages, at which nearly 
all the voters of the town were present, every 
public question was discussed with that ardor 
which the near personal interest of the speak- 
ers can alone supply. There was no indiffer- 
ence. Every one made it a point to be present, 
and the concourse was a more striking one than 
many more pretentious and dignified gather- 
ings. The colonists were a disputatious, shrewd, 
and hard-headed race. WhenJtheyjiiet_,to ar- 
range all those matters of domestic polity, 
which by virtue of their nearness seemed much 
more important than grander but more distant 
and abstract questions, there was no Jack of 
earnestness or of keen ability in thei r, deb ates. 
Men learned the essential elements of vigorous 
and able discussion. They did not perhaps learn 
all the intricacies of parliamentary tactics, but 
they did acquire a good deal of skill in the way 
of observation and of management. It was 
a democratic political body, 1 wherein perfect 
equality prevailed so far as privilege or the dis- 
tinction of the individual were concerned, but 
where the inequality arising from difference in 

i Gordon, iu his History of Independence, says : " Every 
town is an incorporated republic ; " and Mr. Hosmer, in an 
admirable pamphlet lately published upon this subject, calls 
the town-meeting the " proper primordial cell of a republican 
body politic," and says that it existed " iu well-developed form 
only in New England." 


natural ability counted for all that it was worth. 
In such conflicts every man learned to strike 
with all the skill and strength that he could 
master, and learned also to take as good and 
often better than he could give back. Behind 
it all lay the fundamental Anglo-Saxon feeling 
of respect for law and order, for common sense 
and the sounder reason. It was generally the 
stronger argument which prevailed. It was to 
the judgment, not to the emotions that appeal 
had to be made in bodies composed of such ma- 
terial. A throng of Yankee farmers or mer- 
chants listening to a speaker for the purpose of 
detecting the weak points in his speech com- 
pelled the ablest and the coolest man to do his 
best. No one could afford to lose either his 
temper or his head. Service in such tourna- 
ments, though the contests were not of national 
moment, very soon made veterans of the active 
participants. Courage, independence, self-con- 
trol, thoroughness, readiness, were soon acquired 
amid the rough but strong and honest handling 
of such encounters. From these fields Adams 
came to one more conspicuous, with his menta 1 
sinews more toughened and more active than 
could have been expected by any one who had 
not witnessed the scenes of the rude arena. He 
had learned how to prepare himself for an ar- 
gument and to study a question which was to 


be discussed, how to put his points with clear- 
ness, force, and brevity ; he was at home in ad- 
dressing a body of hearers ; he was not discom- 
posed by attacks, however vigorous ; he could 
hold his position or assail the position of an 
opponent with perfect coolness and dangerous 
tenacity ; he had learned self-confidence and to 
fear no man, though by the fortunes of war he 
must sometimes be defeated. Altogether, he 
was much better fitted for parliamentary labors 
than he himself suspected. 

From this period of his life for nearly thirty 
years Mr. Adams continued to expand in popu- 
lar estimation, unfortunately also in his own 
estimation, through constantly enlarging meas- 
ures of greatness. But at no time does he ap- 
pear to the student of his character so noble, 
so admirable, or so attractive as during two or 
three years about this time. The entries in 
the diary are brief and often made at provok- 
ingly long intervals ; nor do very many letters 
remain. Yet there are dashes of strong color 
sufficient to give a singularly vivid picture of 
his state of mind and feeling. There is a pro- 
found consciousness of being in the presence 
of great events, of living in momentous and 
pregnant times. This develops him grandly. 
Before the immensity of the crisis all thoughts 
Df self, all personal rivalries, even political 


enmities, disappear. There is perceptible 
scarcely any trace of that unfortunate vanity 
and egotism which so marred his aspect when 
time had taught him that he was really a great 
man. At present he does not know that he is 
great ; he is simply one meaning to do his best, 
and harassed with a genuine, modest doubt how 
good that best will be. Amid the surround- 
ings his new duties impress him with a sense 
of awe. Who is he to take counsel for his 
fellow citizens, he who has only studied the 
few books which he has been able to afford to 
import from England, who has never seen a 
town with more than sixteen thousand inhab- 
itants, nor ever had any experience whatsoever 
of statecraft, who gathers only by hearsay his 
ideas concerning the power and resources of 
England, the temper of her rulers and her peo- 
ple, and who really has scarcely more knowl- 
edge of any province south of Massachusetts ? 
How can he weigh, and compare, and judge 
wisely? Yet he has at least the wisdom to 
measure his own exceeding ignorance, and ob- 
viously he will commit no such rash blunders 
as those into which he will by and by be led 
by the over-weening self-confidence of later 
years. Now he will ponder and reflect, and 
will act prudently and moderately ; for he feels 
most gravely his immense responsibility. But 


though he feels this, it does not make a coward 
of him ; the courage and the spirit of John 
Adams were the same from the cradle to the 
grave. There is not a shadow of timidity ; 
modesty and self-distrust do not take that 
shape nor betray him into irresolution. In 
every line that he writes the firm and manly 
temper is distinctly seen. If he will be anx- 
ious, so also he will be bold and will fear no 
consequences either for his country or for him- 
self. His nerve is good ; he is profoundly 
thoughtful, but not in the least agitated. His 
own affairs must give him some thought, but 
not for himself, only for his family. He does 
not say this ; if he did, the fact might be 
less sure ; but his letters, clear, brief, blunt, 
straightforward, written often in haste and 
always with unquestionable simplicity and 
frankness, leave no doubt concerning his gen- 
erous courage in all matters of his private in- 
terests. The only direct recognition of his 
personal risk is in a passage of a letter to 
James Warren : — 

" There is one ugly reflection. Brutus and Cas- 
sius were conquered and slain, Hampden died in the 
field, Sidney on the scaffold, Harrington in jail, etc. 
This is cold comfort. Politics are an ordeal path 
among red-hot ploughshares. Who then would be a 
politician for the pleasure of running about barefoot 
among them ? Yet somebody must." 


After he had been a short while in Congress 
he writes reassuringly to his wife : — 

" Be not under any concern for me. There is lit- 
tie danger from anything we shall do at the Congress. 
There is such a spirit through the colonies, and the 
members of Congress are such characters, that no 
danger can happen to us, which will not involve the 
whole continent in universal desolation ; and in that 
case, who would wish to live ? " 

H p was willing to take his turn and to do 
his share ; but he insisted that after he had 
contributed his fair proportion of toil and sac- 
rifice, and had assumed his just measure of 
peril, others should come forward to succeed 
him and play their parts also. In truth, at this 
crisis a prominent public position did not hold 
out those lures to ambition which exist in es- 
tablished governments ; there were no appar- 
ent prizes of glory, power, or prosperity ; there 
were alarming visible chances of utter destruc- 
tion. The self-seeking and aspiring class saw 
meagre temptations. So Adams may be rigidly 
believed when he writes : ■: — 

" To say the truth, I was much averse to being 
chosen, and shall continue so ; for I am determined, 
if things are settled, to avoid public life. . . . At 
such a time as this there are many dangerous things 
to be done, which nobody else will do, and therefore 


I cannot help attempting them ; but in peaceful 
times there are always hands enough ready." 

The letters of Adams to his wife from the 
time of his appointment to Congress are de- 
lightful reading. Not because they communi- 
cate interesting historical facts, which indeed it 
was not safe to set down in correspondence, but 
rather because in a thousand little ways they 
cast such a vivid light upon the very striking 
character of the man himself, and give us his 
personal surroundings, also that atmosphere of 
the times which was intense to a degree which 
we hardly picture to ourselves as we read cold 
sketches of them. We see his anxiety some- 
times transiently darkening into despondency ; 
for his energetic, impatient temperame?it chafes 
occasionally at the delays of more timid souls. 
But anon his high spirit gives him gleams of 
bright hope ; no one who has a cause so near 
at heart as Adams had the cause of America 
ever despairs more than temporarily in hours of 
fatigue. Generally Adams's courage is of the 
stubborn and determined sort ; he feels with 
something of bitterness the sacrifices which he 
seems to be making at the -cost of his family, 
and meets them as might be expected of such a 
typical descendant of the New England Puri- 

" We live, my dear soul, in an age of trial. What 


will be the consequence, I know not. The town of 
Boston, for aught I can see, must suffer martyrdom. 
It must expire." 

" I go mourning in my heart all the day long, 
though I say nothing. I am melancholy for the 
public and anxious for my family. As for myself, a 
frock and trousers, a hoe and a spade, would do for 
my remaining days. For God's sake make your chil- 
dren hardy, active, and industrious ; for strength, ac- 
tivity, and industry will be their only resource and 

This he reiterates : — 

" The education of our children is never out of my 
mind. Train them to virtue. Habituate them to in- 
dustry, activity, and spirit. Make them consider every 
vice as shameful and unmanly. Fire them with am- 
bition to be useful." 

O n August 10, 1774. Mr. Adams set forth 
upon a Journey which was to give him his first 
opportunity to see other places than the small 

town nf^ Kn^ori and Jim gajforp villngftR. to 

meet persons whose habits of thought and ways 
oJLlife differed from those prevalent among the 
•endants of the Pilgrims. With three of 
his fellow delegates * he started in a coach, 
u and rode to Coolidge's," whither a " large 
number of gentlemen " had gone before and 

1 Bowdoin declined ; Sam Adams, Cushing, Paine, and 
John Adams went. 


had " prepared an entertainment for them." 
The parting after dinner " was truly affecting, 
beyond all description affecting." The follow- 
ing days proved most interesting and agree- 
able. At every place of any consequence the 
travelers were received with flattering atten- 
tions. The people turned out in crowds, bells 
were rung, even cannon were fired ; the feast- 
ing was frequent and plentiful ; every pe rson 
of an}* note called on them: and they had am- 
pie opportunities to learn the opinions an d to 
judge the feelings of the influential citizens ail 
along the route. Adams was naturally much 
pleased ; he began to have that sense of self- 
importance which expanded so rapidly during 
many years to come. " No governor of a prov- 
ince or general of an army," he complacently 
remarks, " was ever treated with so much cere- 
mony and assiduity." But he modestly trans- 
lates the " expressions of respect to us " into 
" demonstrations of the sympathy of this peo- 
ple with the Massachusetts Bay and its capi- 
tal." He told his wife : — 

" I have not time nor language to express the hos- 
pitality and the studied and expensive respect with 
which we have been treated in every stage of our 
progress. If Camden, Chatham, Richmond, and St. 
Asaph had traveled through the country, they could 
pot have been entertained with greater demonstra* 


tions of respect than Cushing, Paine, and the brace 
of Adamses have been. ... I confess the kindness, 
the affection, the applause which have been given to 
me, and especially to our province, have many a 
time filled my bosom and streamed from my eyes." 

It was the period when gentlemen, dining 
and shaking hands, were full of noble patriot- 
ism and a generous sense of brotherhood, be- 
fore the problems and hardships of a tedious 
and painful conflict had bred weariness and 
doubt, before the rivalries of office and author- 
ity had given rise to jealousy and division. 

But amid the courtesies the Massachusetts 
men had not been without instructiv e hints as 
to what difference of opinion they must expect 
to encounter, a nd how it would be prudent fo r 
thmi to bear themselves. Forthwith after his 
appointment Adams had written to the shrewd 
old lawyer, the Nestor of the Massachusetts pa- 
triots, Joseph Hawley, and in reply had re- 
ceived a singularly wise as well as kindly letter 
of advice. Having disposed of Adams's ex- 
pressions of diffidence with some friendly words 
of encouragement, this sagacious counselor said : 

"You cannot, sir, but be fully apprised, that a 
good issue of the Congress depends a good deal on 
the harmony, good understanding, and I had almost 
said brotherly love of its members. . . . Now there is 
an opinion which does in some degree obtain in the 


other colonies, that the Massachusetts gentlemen, 
and especially of the town of Boston, do affect to 
dictate and take the lead in continental measures ; 
that we are apt, from an inward vanity and self-con- 
ceit, to assume big and haughty airs. Whether this 
opinion has any foundation in fact I am not certain. 
. . . Now I pray that everything in the conduct and 
behavior of our gentlemen, which might tend to 
beget or strengthen such an opinion, might be most 
carefully avoided. It is highly probable, in my opin- 
ion, that you will meet gentlemen from several of the 
other colonies, fully equal to yourselves or any of 
you, in their knowledge of Great Britain, the colo- 
nies, law, history, government, commerce, etc. . . . 
And by what we from time to time see in the public 
papers and what our assembly and committees have 
received from the assemblies and committees of the 
more southern colonies, we must be satisfied that 
they have men of as much sense and literature as any 
we can or ever could boast of." 

Do these cautious words indicate that this 
keen reader of men had already seen in John 
Adams the presumptuous and headstrong tem- 
perament which was to make life so hard for 
him in the years to come ? But the sound ad> 
monition, well meant and well taken, was cor- 
roborated by occurrences on the journey. In 
New York, McDougall, an eminent patriot, 
advised the Massachusetts men " to avoid every 
expression here which looked like an allusion 


to the last appeal." A party in that province, 
he said, were "intimidated, lest the leveling 
spirit of the New England colonies should prop- 
agate itself into New York. Another party 
are prompted by Episcopalian prejudices 
against New England." At an entertainment 
in the city Mr. Philip Livingston, u a great, 
rough, rapid mortal," with whom " there is no 
holding any conversation," seemed "to dread 
New England, the leveling spirit," etc., threw 
out distasteful hints " of the Goths and Van- 
dals," and made unpleasant allusions to " our 
hanging the Quakers," etc. Perhaps it is to 
the self-restraint which Mr. Adams had to im- 
pose on his resentful tongue at these interviews 
that we must attribute his harsh criticism of 
the city and its people : — 

" We have been treated," he admitted, " with an 
assiduous respect; but I have not seen one real 
gentleman, one well-bred man since I came to town. 
At their entertainments there is no conversation that 
is agreeable ; there is no modesty, no attention to one 
another. They talk very loud, very fast, and all to- 
gether. If they ask you a question, before you car 
utter three words of your answer, they will break 
out upon you again, and talk away." 

But if Mr. Adams was a little pettish at not 
being listened to with a gentlemanlike deference 
b y the Ne w Yorkers, he had worse to e ndure 


before he set foot in Philadelphia. A party of 
Philadelphia!! " Sons of Liberty " came out to 
meet the Massachusetts travelers, and warned 
them they had been represented as " four des- 
perate adventurers," John Adams and Paine 
being young lawyers of " no great talents, 
reputation, or weight," who were seeking to 
raise themselves into consequence by " court- 
ing popularity." Moreover, they were " sus- 
pected of having independence in view ; " but 
if they should utter the word they would be 
" undone," for independence was as " unpopu- 
lar in Pennsylvania and in all the middle and 
southern states as the stamp act itself." 

All this could hardly have been gratifying , 
even if it were wholesome. But th e quartett e 
took it wonderfully well, and shrewdl y acted 
upon it. They were even so far reticent and 
moderate in the debates as to be outstripped 
by many in rebellious expressions ; and though 
really more sternly in earnest and more ad- 
vanced in their views than any others, they 
skillfully so managed it that for a long while 
they were not recognized as constituting a van- 
guard, or as being either leaders or drivers 
of the rest. Indeed, their visible moderation 
provoked some uncomplimentary utterances 
of surprise. While they measured their words 
rather within than beyond the limits of what 


their colony was anxious to make good, the im- 
petuous southerners vented more reckless lan- 
guage, and soon found themselves committed to 
the forward movement by this hasty and unin- 
tentional assumption of a position at the head 
of the column. " The gentlemen from Vir - 
ginia " pleased Mr. Adams much. They " ap - 
pear to be the most spirited and consistent of 
any," he said. u Young Rutledge," who "wj^s 
high enough," apparently astonished anxLpex- 
haps not a little amused Mr. Adams, hereto- 
fore without experience of a temperament so 
unlike the restrained but stubborn spirit of the 
old-fashioned New Englander. Sometimes 
tongues moved freely under artificial stimulus; 
thus one day " we went with Mr. William Bar- 
rell to his store, and drank punch, and ate 
dried smoked sprats with him ; " in the evening 
at Mr. Mifflin's there was " an elegant supper, 
and we drank sentiments till eleven o'clock. 
Lee and Harrison were very high. Lee had 
dined with Mr. Dickinson, and drank bur- 
gundy the whole afternoon." There were 
enough treasonable toasts that festal night to 
have seriously troubled the patriotic revelers, 
had the royal authorities found it more con- 
venient to punish such vinous disaffection. 

Not much real work could be done by this 
first Congress. In fact it was simply a conclave 


of selected citizens convened to talk over the 
imminent crisis. The people had invested them 
with no authority, and could expect only wise 
counsel. Thus the sole definite result of their 
deliberations was a recommendation of a non- 
"exportation and non-importation league of all 
the provinces. It was a poor medicine, but it 
was according to the knowledge of the times ; 
heroic but mistaken surgery, reminding one of 
the blood-letting which used to be practised in 
those same days at the very times when all the 
vigor of the system seemed likely to be taxed 
to the uttermost. On the verge of a war with 
Great Britain, the colonists were bidden by 
their wise men to impoverish themselves as 
much as possible, and to cut off the supply of 
all the numerous articles of common necessity 
and daily use, which they would only be able 
to replenish after the war should be over. It 
is true that they hoped to avoid war by this 
commercial pressure upon England, and there 
is so much plausibility in the argument that, 
had not the folly of the policy been demon- 
strated by its palpable failure before the war of 
the Revolution, and again, a generation later, 
before the war of 1812, it might possibly still 
be believed in to this day. It is now known 
that commercial pressure has often hastened 
peace, but never averted war. But when tli6r 


first Congress met, experiments had not yet 
manifested this truth. Mr. Adams apparently 
had some glimmering appreciation of the case, 
for he only favored half of the measure, ap- 
proving of non-exportation, but not of non- 
importation. This was foolish, being a plan 
for putting out money without taking it back. 

Upon another question which arose also, Mr. 
Adams was very imperfectly satisfied with the 
result of the deliberations. A great committee 
was formed, upon which each colony was rep- 
resented by two of its members, and which 
was charged with the duty of drafting a 
declaration of rights. A second committee, 
of half the size, was also deputed to spe- 
cify wherein the enumerated rights had been 
infringed. The report of the second com- 
mittee, when rendered, was referred to the 
first committee, which was at the same time 
increased in numbers. Mr. Adams was an orig- 
inal member of the first committee, which 
afterward for a time became of such impor- 
tance as to supersede the regular sittings of the 
full Congress, and at last suffered^ very natu 
rally from the jealousy of those who were not 
included in it. Adams was also one of the 
sub-committee appointed to draft the report, 
and he struggled hard to have embodied in the 
declaration an assertion of " natural rights," as 


a general basis. " I was," he said, " very stren- 
uous for retaining and insisting on it, as a 
resource to which we might be driven by Par- 
liament much sooner than we were aware." 
But after long and earnest discussion he was 
defeated, as has been supposed, through the 
"influence of the conservative Virginia mem- 
bers." J 

The really important function, which this 
Congress fulfilled efficiently and with the best 
results, was the establishment of a sense of 
unity among the colonies. Not only were their 
representative men enabled to know each other, 
but through the reports which they carried 
home and spread abroad among their neigh- 
bors, the people of each province could form 
some fair estimate of the prevalent temper and 
the quality of sentiment in every other prov- 
ince. The temperature of each colony could 
be marked with fair accuracy on the patriotic 
thermometer. The wishes and the fears of the 
several communities, based on their distinct in- 
terests, were appreciated with a near approach 
to accuracy. The leaders in the movement 
could discern the obstacles which they had to 
encounter. The characters and opinions of in- 
fluential men were learned ; it was known how 
far each could be relied upon, and at what 

1 Mr. C. F. Adams, in his Life of John Adams. 


point of advance one or another might be ex- 
pected to take fright. On the whole, the out- 
come of all this comparison and observation 
was satisfactory. There was a substantial con- 
cordance, which left room indeed for much 
variety in schemes of policy, in anticipations 
of results, in doctrines concerning rights, and 
in theories as to the relationship of the col- 
onies to that step-dame, called the mother- 
country. But in the main there was a funda- 
mental consent that England was exercising an 
intolerable tyranny, and that resistance must 
be made to whatever point might prove neces- 
sary. Also there was a manifest loyalty to- 
wards each other, and a determination to stand 
together and to make the cause of one the 
cause of all. To the delegation from Massa- 
chusetts this feeling was all-important and most 
reassuring. Adams seized eagerly upon every 
indication of it. By nature he was a, man of 
action rather than of observation ; and upon the 
present errand he had to do violence to his na- 
tive qualities in many ways. It is droll to see 
this impetuous and imperious creature seeking 
to curb himself, this most self-asserting of men 
actually keeping himself in the background by 
an exertion of will nothing less than tremen- 
dous. His painful consciousness of the necessi- 
ties of the situation, impressed upon him by 


others and confirmed by his own common-sense, 
is constantly apparent. For two months the 
rash and outspoken man is politic and reticent, 
the headstrong leader assumes moderation in 
the middle rank. In September he wrote : 
"We have had numberless prejudices to re- 
move here. We have been obliged to act with 
great delicacy and caution. We have been 
obliged to keep ourselves out of sight, and to 
feel pulses, and to sound the depths ; to insin- 
uate our sentiments, designs, and desires by 
means of other persons, sometimes of one prov- 
ince, sometimes of another." 

No reports of the debates remain which can 
give us any just knowledge of the part he 
played or the influence he exercised. It was 
not prudent for semi-rebels to keep such rec- 
ords. But his diary and his letters, especially 
those to his wife, from which most of the 
foregoing quotations have been made, reflect 
with picturesque and delightful naturalness his 
struggles with himself, his opinions of others, 
his anxiety, his irritations, his alternate hopes 
and fears, and intermittent turns of despon- 
dency and reassurance. The reader of these 
memorials, which Adams has left behind him, 
will be struck to see how very emotional he 
was; varying moods succeed each other, as 
Bhadow and sunshine chase one another over 


the face of the fields in spring-time. Excite- 
ment, hopefulness, kindliness, weariness, dis- 
likings, mistrust, doubt, pleasure, ennui, moral- 
izings, checker in lively succession records only 
too brief for so varied a display. Beyond this 
personal element they also give much of the 
atmosphere of Congress. At first he burst 
forth in enthusiastic admiration of that body : 
" There is in the Congress a collection of the 
greatest men upon this continent in point of 
abilities, virtues, and fortunes. The magna- 
nimity and public spirit which I see here make 
me blush for the sordid, venal herd which I 
have seen in my own province." Again he 
wrote to Warren : " Here are fortunes, abilities, 
learning, eloquence, acuteness, equal to any 1 
ever met with in my life. . . . Every question 
is discussed with a moderation* an acuteness, 
and a minuteness equal to that of Queen Eliza- 
beth's privy council." But the moderation and 
minuteness, admirable qualities as they were, 
involved vexation in the shape of " infinite de- 
lays." So occasionally Adams finds his pulse 
beating somewhat faster than that of others, 
and says with less satisfaction: u But then, 
when you ask the question, ' What is to be 
done ? ' they answer : 4 Stand still. Bear with 
patience. If you come to a rupture with the 
f P?}flI)fl a1 1 ^ ^ftt T ' Resuming the first charter, 


absolute independency, etc., are ideas which 
startle people here." " They shudder at the 
prospect of blood," he says, yet are " unani- 
mously and unalterably against submission" by 
Massachusetts to any of the Acts of Parlia- 
ment. Adams felt very keenly the inconsist' 
ency between these sentiments. He knew that 
the choice lay between submission and blood, 
and he was irritated at seeing Congress guilty 
of what seemed to him the weakness, unques- 
tionably wholly alien from his own character, 
of recoiling from the consequences of that 
which they acknowledged to be the proper 
course. He noted with disgust the " general 
opinion here, that it is practicable for us in the 
Massachusetts to live wholly without a legisla- 
ture and courts of justice as long as will be 
necessary to obtain relief." U A more adequate 
support and relief to the Massachusetts should 
be adopted," he said, than " figurative pane- 
gyrics upon our wisdom, fortitude, and tem- 
perance," coupled with u most fervent exhor- 
tations to perseverance." " Patience, forbear* 
ance, long-suffering are the lessons taught here 
for our province," — lessons which oftentimes 
severely taxed his " art and address," though 
he did his best to receive them with a serene 

But anon these expressions of impatience and 


discontent were varied by outbursts of enthusi- 
astic joyousness. A rumor came of a bombard- 
ment of Boston, and he writes : " War ! War ! 
War ! was the cry, and it was pronounced in a 
tone which would have done honor to the ora- 
tory of a Briton or a Roman. If it had proved 
true, 1 you would have heard the thunder of an 
American Congress." When the spirited reso- 
lutions from Suffolk County, Massachusetts, 
were presented to Congress, and received in a 
warm, kindred temper, he exclaims in joyous 
triumph : " This, .day convinced m§ that Amer- 
ica will support the Massachusetts, or perish 
with her." Pie was profoundly affected by 
manifesTfations of sympathy for his province. 
The intensity of such times is brought home to 
us as we read his words : " The esteem, the af- 
fection, the admiration for the people of Bos- 
ton and the Massachusetts, which were ex- 
pressed yesterday, and the fixed determination 
that they should be supported, were enough to 
melt a heart of stone. I saw the tears gush 
into the eyes of the old, grave, pacific Quakers 
of Pennsylvania." 

All the while, through these trying alterna- 
tions, he more and more accustomed himself to 
think, though never openly to speak, of the end 
towards which events were surely tending, an 

1 The rumor was quickly contradicted. 


end which he anticipated more confidently, and 
contemplated more resolutely than probably 
any of his comrades. Let our people, he ad- 
vised, drill and lay in military stores, but " let 
them avoid war, if possible, — if possible, I say." 
Many little indications show how slender, in 
his inmost thought, he conceived this possibil- 
ity to be. On September 20, 1774, he was in 
a very ardent frame of mind. " Frugality, my 
dear," he wrote to a wife who needed no such 
admonitions, u frugality, economy, parsimony 
must be our refuge. I hope the ladies are 
every day diminishing their ornaments, and the 
gentlemen too. Let us eat potatoes and drink 
water. Let us wear canvas and undressed 
sheepskins, rather than submit to the unright- 
eous and ignominious domination that is pre- 
pared for us." These injunctions to abstemi- 
ousness were perhaps merely reactionary after 
some of the " incessant feasting " which was 
trying the digestion of the writer. For these 
patriots at this early stage of the troubles were 
not without alleviations amid their cares and 
toils. From nine in the morning till three in 
the afternoon they attended to business, " then 
we adjourn and go to dine with some of the 
nobles of Pennsylvania at four o'clock, and feast 
upon ten thousand delicacies, and sit drinking 
madeira, claret, and burgundy till six or seven, 


and then go home fatigued to death with busi- 
ness, company, and care." Similar allusions to 
"a mighty feast," " an elegant feast," to tur- 
tle, rich dishes, and glorious wines abound. 
It was probably when the gastric resources had 
been too sorely taxed by these fiery hospitalities 
that he became irritated and impatient, so that 
he said to his wife : " Tedious indeed is our 
business, — slow as snails." " I am wearied to 
death with the life I lead." 

As the October days glided by and the end 
of the session did not seem to be at hand, his 
natural impatience frequently broke out, ex- 
pressed with that sarcastic acerbity which he 
so often displayed. 

" The deliberations of Congress are spun out to an 
immeasurable length. There is so much wit, sense, 
learning, acuteness, subtlety, eloquence, etc., among 
fifty gentlemen, . . . that an immensity of time is 
spent unnecessarily." 

" This assembly is like no other that ever existed. 
Every man in it is a great man, an orator, a critic, a 
statesman ; and therefore every man upon every 
question must show his oratory, his cri deism, and his 
political abilities. The consequence of this is, that 
business is drawn and spun out to an immeasurable 
length. I believe, if it was moved and seconded that 
we should come to a resolution that three and two 
make five, we should be entertained with logic and 
rhetoric, law, history, politics, and mathematics ; and 


then — we should pass the resolution, unanimously, 
in the affirmative." 

" These great wits, these subtle critics, these re- 
fined geniuses, these learned lawyers, these wise states- 
men, are so fond of showing their parts and powers, 
as to make their consultations very tedious. Young 
Ned Rutledge is a perfect bob-o-lincoln, — a swal- 
low, a sparrow, a peacock ; excessively vain, exces- 
sively weak, and excessively variable and unsteady ; 
jejune, inane, and puerile." 

The Adams censoriousness was bubbling to 
the surface. Even the "perpetual round of 
feasting " began to pall upon his simple New 
England stomach, and he grumbles that " Phil- 
adelphia, with all its trade and wealth and reg- 
ularity, is not Boston. The morals of our 
people are much better ; their manners are 
more polite and agreeable ; they are purer 
English ; our language is better ; our taste is 
better ; our persons are handsomer ; our spirit 
is greater ; our laws are wiser ; our religion is 
superior ; our education is better." But by 
November 28, when he was able at last to start 
for home, he recovered his good - nature, and 
though he had to depart in " a very great rain," 
yet he could speak of " the happy, the peace- 
ful, the elegant, the hospitable and polite city 
of Philadelphia," and declared his expectation 
" ever to retain a most grateful, pleasing sense 
of the many civilities " he had received there. 


In truth there were sound reasons to account 
for Mr. Adams's irritability and critical ouk 
bursts. Though he had sense enough not to 
say so, yet evidently he was dissatisfied with 
the practical achievements of the Congress. 
In a momentous crisis, with events pressing 
and anxious throngs hanging expectant upon 
the counsels of the sages in debate, those sages 
had broken up their deliberations, and were 
carrying home to their constituents only a rec- 
ommendation of commercial non-intercourse, 
One half of t his scheme Ada ms plainly saw to 
be foolish; the mischief of the other halt" he did 
not comprehend ; yet he was shrewd enough, to 
give it small credit fpr efficiency. Of an active, 
impatient temperament, he was sorely discour- 
aged at this outcome of a gathering to which 
he had gone with high hopes. He could hardly 
be expected to appreciate that a greater rate 
of speed would probably have resulted in a 
check and reaction. By doing too mueh-£on- 
gress would haY^-^timulai.exI.a-Xi^vjiJ^iQU oi-pop- 
ular feeling ; by doing too little it tempted 
the people ±Q..demand niOl'e^. The really serious 
misfortune was, that the little .which was done 
was unpopular. On his way home Mr. Adams 
learned that non-intercourse was so ill-received 
in New York that the tories were jubilant, and 
expected to obtain conclusive possession of the 



Mr. Adams came home only to change the 
scene of his public labor. The provincial as- 
sembly at once summoned him for consultation, 
and directly afterward he was chosen a mem- 
ber of that body as a delegate from Braintree. 
No sooner had it adjourned, in December, than 
he found himself involved in a new undertak- 
ing. The lively newspaper discussions, con- 
ducted after the fashion of the times by essays 
and arguments in the form of letters, consti- 
tuted an important means of influencing popu- 
lar sentiment. The tory " Massachusettensis " x 
was doing very effective work on the king's 
side, and was accomplishing a perceptible de- 
fection from the patriot ranks. Adams took 
up his pen, as " Novanglus," in the Boston 
Gazette, and maintained the controversy with 
absorbing ardor and gratifying success until 
the bloodshed at Lexington put an end to 
merely inky warfare. The last of his papers, 
1 Judge Leonard. 


actually in type at the time of the fray, was 
never published. 

Shortly after that conflict Mr. Adams rode 
over the scene of action and pursuit, carefully 
gathering information. On his return he was 
taken seriously ill with a fever, and before he 
was fairly recovered he was obliged to set forth 
on his way to Philadelphia, where Congress 
was to meet again on May 5, 1775. 3&^tov- 
eled in a " sulky," with a servant on horseback, 
and arrived on May 10. It was no light mat- 
ter in those troubled times, within a few days 
after bloody collisions between British troops 
and Yankee farmers, to leave his wife and 
small children alone in a farmhouse not many 
miles from the waters on which rode his maj- 
esty's ships of war. He wrote to Mrs. Adams : 
" Many fears and jealousies and imaginary 
dangers will be suggested to you, but I hope 
you will not be impressed by them. In_ case 
of real danger, of which you cannot fail to 
have previous intimations, fly to the woods 
with our children." But he was happy in be- 
ing well mated for the exigencies of such days. 
His admirable wdfe w r ould perhaps have not 
been less distinguished than himself, had she 
not been handicapped by the misfortune of sex. 
She w r as a woman of rare mind, high courage, 
and of a patriotism not less intense and. devoted 


than that of any hero of the Revolution. Mr. 
Adams found infinite support and comfort in 
her and gratefully acknowledged it. His ac- 
count of Dickinson, by way of comparison with 
his own case, is at once comical and pathetic. 
That gentleman's mother and wife, he says, 
" were continually distressing him with their 
remonstrances. His mother said to him : 
4 Johnny, you will be hanged ; your estate will 
be forfeited and confiscated; you will leave 
your excellent wife a widow, and your charm- 
ing children orphans, beggars and infamous.' 
From my soul I pitied Mr. Dickinson. ... If 
my mother and my wife had expressed such 
sentiments to me, I was certain that, if they 
did not wholly unman me and make me an 
apostate, they would make me the most miser- 
able man alive." But he was " very happy" 
in that his mother and wife, and indeed all 
his own and his wife's families, had been uni- 
formly of the same mind as himself, " so that I 
always enjoyed perfect peace at home." Thus 
free from any dread of a fusilade in the rear, 
he could push forward faster than many others. 
Everywhere along his route towards Phila- 
delphia he beheld cheering signs of the spirit 
which he longed to see universal among the 
people. In New York the tories " durst not 
show their heads ; " the patriots had " shut up 


the port, seized the custom-house, arms, ammu- 
nition, etc., called a provincial Congress," and 
agreed " to stand by whatever shall be ordered 
by the continental and their provincial Con- 
gress." The great tory, Dr. Cooper, had fled 
on board a man-of-war. " The Jerseys are 
aroused and greatly assist the friends of lib- 
erty in New York. North Carolina has done 
bravely." In Connecticut "everything is do- 
ing . . . that can be done by men, both for New 
York and Boston." In Philadelphia he saw a 
" wonderful phenomenon, ... a field-day, on 
which three battalions of soldiers were re- 
viewed, making full two thousand men " of all 
arms. Colonel Washington was showing his 
opinion of the situation by appearing in Con- 
gress in his uniform. On all sides were the 
tokens of warlike preparation. Adams was 
overjoyed. " We shall see better times yet ! ' 
he cheerily exclaimed. " The military spirit 
which runs through the continent is truly 
amazing." He himself caught some whin of 
the enthusiasm for actual gunpowder. " I have 
bought," he said, " some military books, and 
intend to buy more." " Oh, that I were a sol- 
dier ! I will be. I am reading military books. 
Every one must, and will, and shall be a sol- 
dier." But in cooler moments he concluded 
^hat his age and health rendered it foolish for 


him to think of undertaking camp-life. He 
was right, of course ; his proper place was 
among the civilians. Yet he accepted it not 
without some grumbling. A little later, when 
he rode out with a great cavalcade to honor 
Washington and others on their departure for 
the leaguer around Boston, he wrote home, de- 
scribing the " pride and pomp " of the occa- 
sion : " I, poor creature, worn out with scrib- 
bling for my bread and my liberty, low in 
spirits and weak in health, must leave others 
to wear the laurels which I have sown." He 
seemed at times to have an unpleasant jealousy 
that the military heroes appeared to be en- 
countering greater dangers than the civilians, 
and he argued to show that, in one way and 
another, his risk was not less than that of an 
officer in the army. He says that sometimes 
he feels "an ambition to be engaged in the 
more active, gay, and dangerous scenes ; dan- 
gerous, I say, but I recall the word, for there 
is no course more dangerous than that jyjnchj 
am in." But he had no need to defend either 
his courage or his capacity for self-devotion ; 
neither could be arraigned, even by malicious 

Naturally the display of activity and zeal on 
the part of the disaffected disturbed those who, 
without being tories, were yet of a less deter- 


mined temper, less hopeless of reconciliation, 
more reluctant to go fast, and dreading noth- 
ing so much as an inevitable step towards sep- 
aration. Independence was still spoken of 
deprecatingly, with awe and bated breath, and 
its friends were compelled to recognize the 
continuing necessity of suppressing their views 
and maintaining for the present only a sort of 
secret brotherhood. Yet it was inevitable that 
their sentiments should be divined by the keen 
observers, who thought differently. The mod- 
eratist or reconciliationist party not only un- 
derstood the temper prevalent, though not uni- 
versal, in the New England section, but they 
read Mr. Adams with perfect accuracy — a 
perusal never, it must be confessed, very diffi- 
cult to be made by any clever man. It was 
not without disappointment after his encourag- 
ing journey that he " found this Congress like 
the last ; . . . a strong jealousy of us from 
New England, and the Massachusetts in par- 
ticular ; suspicions entertained of designs of in- 
dependency, an American republic, presbyte- 
rian principles, and twenty other things." Ho 
had to admit that his u sentiments were heard 
in Congress with great caution, and seemed to 
make but little impression." The reticence 
and self-restraint practiced by him in the early 
weeks of the preceding summer session had not 


long retarded a just estimate both of his opin* 
ions and his abilities. This is proved by the 
fact that the moderates now singled him out as 
their chief and most dangerous antagonist. It 
was this respect and hostility manifested pre- 
eminently towards him by the opponents of 
separation which, combined with his own stren- 
uous force, placed him during this winter at 
the head of the party of independence. 

In strong contrast with him, upon the other 
side, was Dickinson, leader of the conciliation- 
ists, rich, courteous, popular, cultivated, plausi- 
ble, amiable, moderate by nature, and handi- 
capped by the ladies at home. This tardy, 
though really sincere patriot, now insisted that a 
second petition, another " olive-branch," should 
be sent to the king. Adams wrought earnestly 
against " this measure of imbecility," the suc- 
cess of which he afterward said " embarrassed 
every exertion of Congress." Dickinson pre- 
vailed, though only narrowly and imperfectly ; 
and Adams was extremely disgusted. His 
views were well-established ; he had a perma- 
nent faith that " powder and artillery are the 
most efficacious, sure, and infallible conciliatory 
measures we can adopt." During the debate 
he left the hall and was followed by Mr. Dick- 
inson, who overtook him in the yard, and be- 
rated him with severe language in an outburst 


of temper quite unusual with the civil Penn* 
sylvanian. Mr. Adams retorted, according to 
his own account, " very coolly." But from this 
time forth there was a breach between these 
two, and though in debate they were able to 
preserve the amenities, they spoke no more 
with each other in private. 

But there were more horses harnessed to the 
Congressional coach than Mr. Dickinson could 
drive. Many necessities were pressing upon 
that body, and many problems were imminent, 
which could not readily be solved in consistence 
with loyalist or even with moderatist princi- 
ples. Adams, hampered by no such principles, 
would have had little difficulty in establishing 
a policy of great energy — possibly of too great 
energy — had he been allowed to dictate to the 
assembly. Many years afterwards, in writing 
his autobiography, he gave a very graphic and 
comprehensive sketch of his views at this time. 
It is true that he was looking back through a 
long vista of years, and his memory was not 
always accurate, so that we may doubt whether 
at the actual moment his scheme was quite so 
bold and broad, so rounded and complete, as 
he recalled it. But unquestionably his feelings 
are substantially well shown. 

" I thought," he says, " the first step ought to be to 
recommend to the people of every state in the Union 


to seize on all the crown officers and hold them, with 
civility, humanity, and generosity, as hostages for the 
security of the people of Boston, and to be exchanged 
for them as soon as the British army would release 
them ; that we ought to recommend to the people of 
all the states to institute governments for themselves, 
under their own authority, and that without loss of 
time ; that we ought to declare the colonies free, sov- 
ereign, and independent states, and then to inform 
Great Britain that we were willing to enter into ne- 
gotiations with them for the redress of all grievances 
and a restoration of harmony between the two coun- 
tries upon permanent principles. All this I thought 
might be done before we entered into any connection, 
alliances, or negotiations with foreign powers. I 
was also for informing Great Britain, very frankly, 
that hitherto we were free ; but, if the war should be 
continued, we«were determined to seek alliances with 
France, Spain, and any other power of Europe that 
would contract with us. That we ought immediately 
to adopt the army in Cambridge as a continental 
army, to appoint a general and all other officers, take 
upon ourselves the pay, subsistence, clothing, arm- 
ing, and munitions of the troops. This is a concise 
sketch of the plan which I thought the only reason- 
able one ; and from conversation with the members 
of Congress I was then convinced, and have been 
ever since convinced, that it was the general sense 
of a considerable majority of that body. This sys- 
tem of measures I publicly and privately avowed 
without reserve." 


It is evident from some contemporary state- 
ments that, at least in the early days of the 
session, these avowals were not quite so open 
and unreserved as Mr. Adams afterward re- 
membered them to have been. Though it is 
true that the chief parts of this plan were soon 
adopted, and though it is altogether credible 
that the feeling which led to that adoption was 
already very perceptible to Mr. Adams in his 
private interviews with individual delegates, 
yet it is tolerably certain that, had he exploded 
such a box of startling fireworks in the face of 
Congress during the first days of its sitting, 
the outcry and scattering would have stricken 
him with sore dismay. Fortunately, though 
burning with impatience, he was more politic 
than he afterwards described himself, and he 
had sufficient good sense to wait a little until 
events brought the delegates face to face with 
issues which the moderatists could rationally 
and consistently decide only in one way. He 
did not like the waiting, he chafed and growled, 
but he wisely endured, nevertheless, until his 
hour came. When and how that hour ad- 
vanced is now to be seen. 

Mr. Dickinson had not carried his motion 
for a second memorial to King George without 
paying a price for it ; Congress simultaneously 
declared that, by reason of grave doubt as to 


the success of that measure, it was expedient 
to put the colonies chiefly threatened, espe- 
cially New York, into a condition for defense. 
This was a practical measure, bringing some 
comfort to the party of action. Soon also there 
came from the Massachusetts Assembly a let- 
ter, setting forth the condition of that province 
now so long without any real government, and 
asking " explicit advice respecting the taking 
up and exercising the powers of civil govern- 
ment." This missive presented a problem 
which many gentlemen would gladly have 
shunned, or at least postponed, but which could 
be shunned and postponed no longer ; a large 
and busy population could not exist for an in- 
definite period without civil authorities of some 
sort ; the people of Massachuset ts Bay had a l- 
ready been in this anomalous condition for a 
long while, and though they had done wonder- 
fully well, yet the strain was not much longer 
to be endured. If Congress, thus supplicated, 
refused to take some action in the premises, it 
would be open to the charge of abdicati ng its 
function of adviser to the colonies, and so would 
lose a large part of its raison d: etre. The let- 
ter was referred to a committee ; and upon 
their report a long debate ensued. The Massa- 
chusetts delegates were much consulted, and at 
last, on June 9, Congress replied that, " no 


obedience being due to the act of Parliament 
for altering their charter, nor to any officers 
who endeavor to subvert that charter, letters 
should be written to the people in the several 
towns requesting them to elect representatives 
to an assembly, who should in their turn elect 
a council, and these two bodies should exercise 
the powers of government for the time." 

This was very good, but a much more im- 
portant matter was still to be disposed of. 
From the beginning of the session it had been 
a main object with Mr. Adams to induce the 
Congress to adopt, so to speak, the army which 
was engaged in besieging the British forces in 
Boston. At present this extraordinary martial 
assemblage was in the most singular condition 
ever presented by such a body. It could not 
be said that the officers commanded by any 
lawful title or authority, or that the rank and 
file obeyed otherwise than by virtue of their 
own willingness to do so. The whole existing 
condition of military as well as of civil af- 
fairs was based upon little more than general 
understanding and mutual acquiescence. Mr. 
Adams was profoundly resolved that the army 
should become the army of Congress, for non- 
descript as that body still was, yet at least the 
army, when adopted by it, would become more 
the army of all the provinces and less that of 



Massachusetts alone than it might now be de- 
scribed. He was overwhelmed with letters both 
from influential civilians of Massachusetts and 
from the principal military officers, imploring 
him in urgent terms to carry through this 
measure. It was no easy matter ; for, besides 
the inevitable opposition of the moderates and 
conciliationists, he had to encounter many per- 
sonal jealousies and ambitions. The adoption 
of the army involved the nomination of a com- 
mander-in-chief, and of subordinate generals, 
and there were many who either wished these 
positions, or had friends and favorite aspirants 
whose possible pretensions they espoused. Mr. 
Adams found that he could make little prog- 
ress towards unanimity by private interviews, 
arguments, and appeals. Accordingly, at las t, 
he came to a very characteristic decision. More 
than once in his life he showed his taste and 
capacity for a coup d'etat in politics. When he 
dealt such a blow, he did it in the most effect- 
ual way, vigorously, and without warning ; thus 
he confounded his opponents and carried his 
point. We shall see more than one other strik- 
ing instance of this sudden strategy and impet- 
uous courage, in his future career. Now, find- 
ing not only that he could not control the 
delegation from his own state, but that even the 
gentlemen from Virginia would not agree to 


unite upon their own fellow citizen, " full of 
anxieties concerning these confusions, and ap- 
prehending daily " the receipt of distressing 
news from Boston, despairing of effecting an 
agreement by personal persuasion, but recog- 
nizing that here again was a case where the 
issue, if forced, could have but one conclusion, 
he one morning, just before going into the hall, 
announced to Samuel Adams that he had re- 
solved to take a step which would compel his 
colleagues from Massachusetts and all the other 
delegates " to_ declare themselves for or against 
something. I am determined this morning to 
make a direct motion that Congress should 
adopt the army before Boston, and appoint 
Colonel Washington commander of it. Mr. 
Adams seemed to think very seriously of it, but 
said nothing." 

The move was made with the same decisive 
promptitude which marked this divulging of 
the intention. Upon the opening of that day's 
session Mr. Adams obtained the floor, and 
made the motion for the adoption. He then 
proceeded briefly to sketch the imperative ne- 
cessities of the time, and closed with a eulogy 
upon a certain gentleman from Virginia, " who 
could unite the cordial exertions of all the col- 
onies better than any other person." There 
Was no doubt who was signified; even the 


modest gentleman himself could not pretend to 
be ignorant, and hastily sought refuge in the 
library. Washington was not the only person 
who was startled out of his composure by this 
sudden thrusting forward of a proposal which 
heretofore had only been a subject of private, 
and by no means harmonious discussion. Mr. 
Hancock, in the president's chair, could not 
conceal his mortification, for he had his own 
aspirations in this same direction. Many gen- 
tlemen expressed doubts as to the propriety of 
placing this Southerner at the head of an army 
in New England, chiefly composed of New Eng- 
land troops, and now commanded by New Eng- 
land officers apparently equal to their func- 
tions. Mr. Pendleton, though himself from 
Virginia, was especially prominent in this pres- 
entation of the case ; so was Mr. Sherman of 
Connecticut ; and even Mr. Adams's own col- 
league, Mr. Cushing, allowed it to be under- 
stood that he was of the same opinion. But 
Mr. Adams had dealt a master-stroke. There 
must be some wriggling of individuals, who 
might thereafter remain his enemies ; but of 
enemies he was never afraid. It was inevita- 
ble that he should carry his point, that Con- 
gress should accept his measure ; so he had the 
satisfaction of seeing the delegates, one by one, 
many pleased, some doubtful, a few sorely 


grumbling, fall into line behind the standard 
which he had so audaciously planted. A little 
work was shrewdly done outside the hall, a few 
days were prudently suffered to elapse for ef- 
fervescence ; the reluctant ones were given 
sufficient opportunity to see that they were 
helpless, and then upon the formal motion of 
Thomas Johnson of Maryland, George Wash- 
ington was unanimously chosen commander-in- 
chief of the united forces of the colonies. On 
June 17, the day of the gallant battle of Bun- 
ker's Hill, Adams wrote in joyous triumph to 
his wife : " I can now inform you that the 
Congress have made choice of the modest and 
virtuous, the amiable, generous, and brave 
George Washington, esquire, to be general of 
the American army. This appointment will 
have a great effect in cementing and securing 
the union of these colonies." With some nat- 
ural anxiety to have his action justified by 
the good acceptance of his fellow-citizens of 
Massachusetts, he adds : " I hope the people 
of our province will treat the general with all 
that confidence and affection, that politeneps 
and respect, which is due to one of the most 
important characters in the world. The liber- 
ties of America depend upon him in a great de- 
gree." The next day he wrote, still in the high- 
est spirits : " This Congress are all as deep as 


the delegates from the Massachusetts, and the 
whole continent as forward as Boston. We 
shall have a redress of grievances, or an as* 
sumption of all the powers of government, leg- 
islative, executive, and judicial, throughout the 
whole continent, very soon.'' He had been 
conducting an arduous struggle, he had gained 
two points, deserving to be regarded not only 
as essential but as finally decisive of the suc- 
cess of his policy. He chie fl y had indu ced 
Congress to recommend Massachusetts to es- 

taiJiah ^a reb^ llious_,goverriment ; he had com- 
pellejLCongress to adopt an army conducting 
open war against King George. Thus, as he 
said, he had got all the other provinces as deep 
in rebellion as his own Massachusetts, and the 
two acts logically involved independence. 

Concerning this nomination of Washington, 
Mr. C. F. Adams says : " In the life of Mr. 
Adams, more than in that of most men, occur 
instances of this calm but decided assumption 
of a fearful responsibility in critical moments. 
But what is still more remarkable is, that they 
were attended with a uniformly favorable re- 
sult." Without now discussing the other in- 
stances, it may be admitted that the present 
one deserves even this somewhat magniloquent 
laudation. The measure brought the possi* 
t)ility of a hearty union of the colonies in real 


war to a sharp, immediate, practical test. It 
was the extreme of audacity for this one man 
to stand forth alone, having secured no support- 
ers, apparently not having even felt the pulse 
of New England, to propose that there should 
be set over an army of New England troops, 
led by New England officers, encamped on 
New England soil, supported by New England 
resources, fighting in what was thus far chiefly 
if not solely a New England quarrel, and which 
had met with no reverses, a commander from 
a distant, and, in a proper sense, even a foreign 
state. Had the New Englanders received this 
slightly-known Southerner with dissatisfaction, 
a more unfortunate and fatal move could not 
have been made. In truth the responsibility 
assumed was sufficiently great ! B ut the stake 
to be won was the union of the thirteen prov- 
inces, and the irrevocable assurance that the 
quarrel to its end was to be not that of one but 
that of all. Unless this stake could be won 
all must be lost. But to determine when and 
how to play the test card in so momentous a 
game called for the highest nerve. Adams 
ac ted upon an implicit faith in the liberal in - 
t elligence of the people of his rpginn- — Thexfi- 
sult proved his thorough comprehension of 
them, and set the seal of wisdom upon his fear- 
less assumption of one of the greatest politicaL 


nsks^recorded in. the ,.warld-jsJbiatpr^ It was 
to this sufficiency on his part for an emergency, 
instinctively felt rather than plainly formu- 
lated, that Adams owed in his lifetime and has 
owed since his death a great respect and ad- 
miration among the people, as being a strong, 
virile man, who could be trusted at the crucial 
moment in spite of all sorts of somewhat igno- 
ble foibles and very inexcusable blunders. 

As if to encourage men of moderate capacity 
by showing that no one is always and evenly 
wise, we have now to see in a small matter the 
reverse of that sagacious judgment just dis- 
played in a great matter. Throughout life 
Mr. Adams startled his friends by his petty 
mistakes not less constantly than he astounded 
his enemies by his grand actions. Repeatedly 
he got into trouble through an uncontrollable 
propensity to act without forethought, upon 
sudden impulse. This was a poor development 
of the same trait which, in happier moments, 
led to such prompt, daring, and fortunate move- 
ments as the nomination of Washington. A 
few weeks after that event it happened that a 
young man, whose patriotism had been under 
a cloud, was about to leave Philadelphia foi 
the neighborhood of Boston. Opportunities for 
sending letters by safe hands being then gladly 
availed of, this person begged to be allowed to 


carry home some letters for Mr. Adams. But 
Adams had none written, and declined the of- 
fer. Then the youth became importunate, 
urging that to carry only a few lines from Mr. 
Adams would set right his injured reputation. 
Foolishly Mr. Adams yielded, or rather the 
folly lay in what he wrote. By persons in 
whom he could place perfect confidence he had 
for months been sending the most guarded 
communications ; now he seized this dubious 
chance to put in writing remarks which a pru- 
dent statesman would not have uttered in con- 
versation without sealing every keyhole. To 
General Warren he began : " I am determined 
to write freely to you this time," and thor- 
oughly did he fulfill this determination. The 
other letter to his wife was a little less disr 
tinctly outspoken ; but between the two the 'do- 
ings and the plans of Adams and his advanced 
friends in Congress were boldly sketched, and 
some very harsh remarks were indulged in con- 
cerning delegates who were not fully in har- 
mony with him. In Rhode Island the British 
intercepted the bearer and captured the letters, 
which were at once published and widely dis- 
tributed on both sides of the water. They 
were construed as plainly showing that some 
at least among the Americans were aiming at 
independence ; and they made a great turmoil, 


stimulating resentment in the mother country, 
alarming the moderates in the provinces, and 
corroborating the extreme charges of the tories. 
It was afterward insisted that they did more 
good than harm, because they caused lines to 
be drawn sharply and hastened the final issue. 
Adams himself sought consolation in this view 
of the matter in his autobiography. But if 
this effect was really produced, yet it could 
not have been foreseen, and it therefore con- 
stituted no excuse for Mr. Adams's reckless- 
ness, which had been almost incredible. 

Neither did this dimly visible result act as 
an immediate shelter against the flight of evils 
from this Pandora's box. To Warren, Adams 
had said : " A certain great fortune and pid- 
dling genius, whose fame has been trumpeted 
so loudly, has given a silly cast to our whole 
doings." He closed the letter to his wife with 
this unfinished sentence : " The fidgets, the 
whims, the caprice, the vanity, the superstition, 
the irritability of some of us are enough to — ; " 
words failed him for the expression of his dis- 
gust. " No mortal tale can equal it," as he 
had already said. The " piddling genius " was 
easily recognized as Mr. Dickinson, and the un- 
fortunate victims of the fidgets, etc., were of 
course the conciliationists. Widespread wrath 
naturally ensued ; and Mr. Adams was made 


for a while extremely uncomfortable. -Dickin- 
son cut him; many more treated him little 
better; he walked the streets a marked and 
unpopular man, shunned, distrusted, and dis- 
liked by many. He put the best face he could 
upon it, and said that the letters did not amount 
to so very much, after all the talk about them ; 
but it is plain enough^that he would have been 
glad to recall their/. If they were nothing 
worse, at least they were crying evidence of his 
incorrigible and besetting weakness. He lived 
to be an old man and had his full share of se- 
vere lessons, but neither years nor mortifica- 
tions could ever teach him to curb his hasty, 
ungovernable tongue. The little member was 
too much for him to the end, great, wise, and 
strong-willed as he was. 



Congress adjourned for the summer vaca- 
tion of 1775, which enabled Mr. Adams to 
spend August at home. But during nearly all 
this brief recess he was busy with the provin- 
cial executive council, and got little rest. On 
the last day of the month he set out again for 
Philadelphia, where he arrived in the middle 
of September. In addition to public cares he 
was for many weeks harassed with ill news 
from home. Dysentery became epidemic in 
the neighborhood of Boston during; this sum- 
mer and autumn. His brother had died of it 
before he left home ; his wife's mother died in 
September ; his wife herself and three of his 
four children were in turn stricken with the 
disease. Besides these troubles, the complex- 
ion of Congress gave him much disquietude. 
During the recess a reaction had set in ; or at 
best the momentum acquired prior to the ad- 
journment had been wholly lost. From the 
first secret committee Massachusetts was con- 


spicuously omitted. Dickinson, Deane, and 
Jay, conciliationists all, seemed to lead a ma- 
jority, and to give color to the actions of the 
whole body. Those unfortunate l etters of Mr. 
Adams had been efficiently used by the mod- 
erates to alarm the many who dreaded political 
convulsion, prolonged war, and schemes for in- 
dependence. Even old friends and coadjutors 
of the detected correspondent now looked coldly 
on him, since intimacy with him had become 
more than ever compromising. Yet he stood 
stoutly to his purposes. 

" I assure you," he wrote to his wife, " the letters 
had no such bad effects as the tories intended and as 
some of our short-sighted whigs apprehended ; so far 
otherwise that I see and hear every day fresh proofs 
that everybodv is coming fast into every political 
sentiment contained in them. I assure you I could 
mention compliments passed upon them, and if a se- 
rious decision could be had upon them, the public 
voice would be found in their favor." 

More and more zealously he was giving his 
whole heart and soul, his life and prospects to 
the great cause. Almost every day he was en- 
gaged in debate, almost every day he had some- 
thing to say about instituting state governments, 
about the folly of petitions to the king and of 
conciliatory measures. A paragraph from one 
of his letters to his wife, October 7, 1775, 


though long, is worth quoting, to show the in* 
tense and lofty spirit which animated him in 
these critical days : — 

" The situation of things is so alarming that it is 
our duty to prepare our minds and hearts for every 
event, even the worst. From my earliest entrance 
into life I have been engaged in the public cause of 
America ; and from first to last I have had upon my 
mind a strong impression that things would be 
wrought up to their present crisis. I saw from the 
beginning that the controversy was of such a nature 
that it never would be settled, and every day con- 
vinces me more and more. This has been the source 
of all the disquietude of my life. It has lain down 
and risen up with me these twelve years. The 
thought that we might be driven to the sad necessity 
of breaking our connection with Great Britain, ex- 
clusive of the carnage and destruction which it was 
easy to see must attend the separation, always gave 
me a great deal of grief. And even now I would 
gladly retire from public life forever, renounce all 
chance for profits or honors from the public, nay, I 
would cheerfully contribute my little property, to ob- 
tain peace and liberty. But all these must go and 
my life too before I can surrender the right of my 
country to a free Constitution. I dare not consent 
to it. I should be the most miserable of mortals ever 
after, whatever honors or emoluments might sur- 
tound me." 

Solemn words of faith and self-devotion! 


Yet the man who spoke them was still a subject 
of Great Britain, a rebel. No wonder that he 
chafed at the names, and longed rather to be 
called a free citizen and a patriot. 

In spite of the hostility which he had excited, 
he was acquiring great influence. His energy 
and capacity for business compelled recognition 
at a time when there was more work to be 
done than hands to do it. The days of feast- 
ing and of comfortable discussion at the tables 
of Philadelphia magnates belonged to the past. 
Hard labor had succeeded to those banquetings. 
Adams thus sketches his daily round in the au- 
tumn of 1775 : "I am really engaged in con- 
stant business from seven to ten in the morning 
in committee, from ten to four in Congress, 
and from six to ten again in committee." The 
incessant toiling injured by degrees his consti- 
tution, and within a few months he began to 
fear that he should break down before his two 
great objects, independence and a confedera- 
tion, could be attained, at the present creeping 
pace, as it seemed to him. 

This lukewarmness, so prevalent this autumn, 
struck him. the more painfully because he had 
just come from a neighborhood where the 
aroused people were waging real war, and had 
set their hot hands to the plough with a dogged 
determination to drive it to the end of the fur* 


row. The change to the tepid patriotism of the 
Quaker City embittered him. To his diary he 
confided some very abusive fleers at the man- 
ners and appearance of many of his co-delegates. 
" There appears to me," he says, " a remark - 
able want of judgment in some of our mem- 
bers." Chase he describes as violent, boister- 
ous, tedious upon frivolous points. So, too, is E. 
Eutledge, who is likewise an uncouth, ungrace- 
ful speaker, with offensive habits of shrugging 
his shoulders, distorting his body, wriggling his 
head, rolling his eyes, and speaking through 
his nose. John Rutledge also " dodges his 
head " disagreeably ; and both " spout out their 
language in a rough and rapid torrent, but 
without much force or effect." Dyer, though 
with some good qualities, is long-winded, round- 
about, obscure, cloudy, very talkative, and very 
tedious. Sherman's air is the " reverse of 
grace " when he keeps his hands still, but 
when he gesticulates "it is stiffness and awk- 
wardness itself, rigid as starched linen or buck- 
ram, awkward as a junior bachelor or sopho- 
more," so that Hogarth's genius could have 
invented nothing worse. Bad as Sherman is, 
Dickinson's " air, gait, and action are not much 
more elegant." Thus wrote the father of 
that bitter-tongued son, who, it is clear, took 
his ruthless sarcasm and censoriousness as an 


honest inheritance. But the words were only 
an impetuous outburst of irritation due to 
a passing discontent, which disappeared alto- 
gether soon afterward, when the business of 
Congress began to run more to the writer's 
taste. There had to be some private safety- 
vent, when he must so repress himself in publico 
" Zeal and fire and activity and enterprise," 
he acknowledged, " strike my imagination too 
much. I am obliged to be constantly on my 
guard, yet the heat within will burst forth at 
times." Very soon, however, the stern logic 
of facts, the irresistible pressure of events con- 
trolled the action of this session of Congress 
not less conclusively than the preceding. Men 
might prattle of olive-branches and the restora- 
tion of harmony, but scarcely concealed behind 
the thin fog raised by such language stood the 
solid substance of a veritable rebellion. An 
American army was besieging a British army ; 
governments, not rooted in royal or parliamen- 
tary authority, were established in several prov- 
inces'. The Congress whic h had ad opted that 
army, giv en it a commander, and provided foi 
its maintenance, which also had promoted the or- 
ganization of those governments, was a co ngre- 
ga tion of rebels, if ever th ere were rebels in the 
world. Dickinson and Deane were as liable to 
be hanged as were the Adamses and the Lees : 


and Washington himself was in scarcely more 
danger than any of these civilians. In this 
condition of affairs advance was inevitable. All 
history shows that the unresting pressure of a 
body of able men, resolutely striving for a def- 
inite end, furnishes a motive power which no 
inertia of a reluctant mass can permanently 
resist. Progression gains point after point till 
the conclusion is so assured that resistance 
ceases. A fresh indication of this truth was 
now seen in the movement to establish a fleet 
at the continental charge. " This naked prop- 
osition," Mr. C. F. Adams tells us, " was at 
once met with a storm of ridicule," in which 
some delegates joined who might have been 
looked for on the other side. But the tempest 
spent itself in a few days, and then a commit- 
tee was appointed, charged to procure vessels 
to be placed under the control of Washington. 
Within less than two months a real navy was 
in course of active preparation. Mr. Adams 
was a, member of the committee and set_zeal- 
ously about the work ; he sought information 
on all sides and exhaustively ; and besides the 
practical equipment and manning of the-ves&els, 
he was soon ready with a maritime code . 

About the same time an application from 
New Hampshire for advice concerning its inter, 
ual policy was answered by a recommendation 


for calling a " full and free representation of the 
people ; " and with advice that " the represen- 
tatives, if they think it necessary, establish 
such a form of government as in their judg- 
ment will best produce the happiness of the 
people during the continuance of the present 
dispute." The ease with which this resolution 
passed, almost unchallenged by the Dickinson 
party, was very encouraging. During this 
autumn also was made the first effort to organ- 
ize foreign embassies. Mr. Adams described 
this endeavor as follows : — - 

"In consequence of many conversations between 
Mr. Chase and me he made a motion . . . for send- 
ing ambassadors to France. I seconded the motion. 
You know the state of the nerves of Congress at 
that time. . . . Whether the effect of the motion re- 
sembled the shock of electricity, of mesmerism, or 
of galvanism the most exactly, I leave you philoso- 
phers to determine, but the grimaces, the agitations 
and convulsions were very great." 

Vehement debates ensued, of his own share 
in which Mr. Adams says : " I was remarkably 
cool and, for me, unusually eloquent. On no 
occasion, before or after, did I ever make a 
greater impression on Congress." " Attention 
and approbation were marked on every counte- 
nance." Many gentlemen came to pay him 
their compliments ; and even Dickinson praised 


him. Nevertheless his oratory failed to secure 
the practical reward of success ; the step was 
too far in advance of the present position of a 
majority of members. There were "many 
motions" and much "tedious discussion," but 
" after all our argumentation the whole termi- 
nated in a committee of secret correspondence." 
So Mr. Adams was again relegated to the odi- 
ous duty of waiting patiently. But he and his 
abettors had insured ultimate success ; indeed, 
it was only a question how far the colonies 
would soon go in this direction. It even ap- 
peared that there were some persons who de- 
sired to push foreign connections to a point 
much beyond that at which Mr. Adams would 
have rested. Thus, Patrick Henry was in favor 
of alliances, even if they must be bought by 
concessions of territory ; whereas Adams de- 
sired only treaties of commerce, advising that 
" we should separate ourselves as far as possible 
and as long as possible from all European poli- 
tics and wars." He anticipated the " Monroe 

On December 9, 1775, Mr. Adams set out on 
a short visit to Massachusetts. He was anx- 
ious to learn accurately the present temper of 
the people. While there, besides advising 
Washington upon an important question con- 
cerning the extent of his military jurisdiction, 


he also arranged a personal matter. He had 
lately been appointed chief justice of the prov- 
ince, apparently not with the expectation of 
securing his actual presence on the bench, but 
for the sake of the strength and prestige which 
his name would give to the newly-constituted 
tribunal of justice. He now accepted the office 
upon the clear understanding that he should 
not take his seat unless upon some pressing 

On January 24, 1776, having found both the 
leaders and the people in full accord with his 
own sentiments, he set out in company with 
Elbridge Gerry, on his return to Philadelphia. 
The two carried with them some important in- 
structions to the Massachusetts delegates, pos- 
sibly the fruit of Mr. Adams's visit, or at least 
matured and ripened beneath the heat of his 
presence. These gentlemen were bidden to 
urge Congress " to concert, direct, and order 
such further measures as shall to them appear 
best calculated for the establishment of right 
and liberty to the American colonies, upon a 
basis permanent and secure against the power 
and art of the British administration, and 
guarded against any future encroachments of 
thei r enemies." 

But again the change from the patriotic at- 
mosphere of Massachusetts to the tamer cli- 


mate of Philadelphia dispirited Adams seri- 
ously. He wrote home, February 11, to his 
wife : " There is a deep anxiety, a kind of 
thoughtful melancholy, and in some a lowness 
of spirits approaching to despondency, prevail- 
ing through the southern colonies at present." 
But he had at last learned to value these inter- 
missions correctly ; he had seen them before, 
even in Massachusetts, and he recognized them 
as transitory. " In this or a similar condition we 
shall remain, I think, until late in the spring, 
when some critical event will take place ; per- 
haps sooner. But the arbiter of events . . . 
only knows which way the torrent will be turned. 
Judging by experience, by probabilities and by 
all appearances, I conclude it will roll on to 
dominion and glory, though the circumstances 
and consequences may be bloody." This was 
correct forecasting; late in the spring of 1776 
a very " critical event " did happen, entailing 
" bloody consequences," " dominion," and 
" glory." " In such great changes and commo- 
tions," he says, "individuals are but atoms. It 
is scarcely worth while to consider what the 
consequences will be to us." The " effects 
upon present and future millions, and millions 
of millions," engage his thoughts. The fre- 
quent recurrence of such expressions indicates 
a peculiar sense of awe on his part. He felt, to 


a degree that few others did at this time, that 
he was in the presence of momentous events. 
The prescience of a shadowy but grand future 
was always with him, and impressed him like 
a great religious mystery. This feeling lent a 
solemn earnestness to his conduct, the wonder- 
ful force of which is plainly perceptible, even 
to this day, in the meagre fragmentary records 
which have come down to us. 

As the winter of 1776 advanced it could no 
longer be doubted that the American provinces 
were rapidly nearing an avowed independence. 
The middle states might be reluctant, and 
their representatives in Congress might set 
their backs towards the point which they were 
approaching ; but they approached it neverthe- 
less. They were like men on a raft, carried by 
an irresistible current in one direction, while ob- 
stinately steering in the other. Adams listened 
to their talk with contempt ; he had no sym- 
pathy with their unwillingness to assert an un- 
deniable fact. " I cannot but despise," he said, 
" the understanding which sincerely expects an 
honorable peace, for its credulity, and detest 
the hypocritical heart, which pretends to expect 
it when in truth it does not." He spoke with 
bitter irony of the timid ones who could not 
bring themselves to use a dreaded phrase, who 
were appalled by a word. " If a post or two 


more should bring you unlimited latitude of 
trade to all nations, and a polite invitation to 
all nations to trade with you, take care that 
you do not call it or think it independency ; no 
such matter; independency is a hobgoblin of 
such frightful mien that it would throw a deli- 
cate person into fits to look it in the face." But 
by degrees he was able plainly to see the fea- 
tures of this alarming monster drawing nearer 
and nearer. He beheld an unquestionable 
and great advance by the other provinces to- 
wards the faith long since familiar to New Eng- 
land minds. " The newspapers here are full of 
free speculations, the tendency of which you 
will easily discover. The writers reason from 
topics which have been long in contemplation 
and fully understood by the people at large in 
New England, but have been attended to in the 
southern colonies only by gentlemen of free 
spirits and liberal minds, who are very few." 

The " barons of the south " and the proprie- 
tary interests of the middle states had long 
been his betes noires. " All our misfortunes," 
he said, " arise from a single source, the reluc- 
tance of the southern colonies to a republican 
government." But these obstacles were begin- 
ning to yield. With the influence of Virginia 
in favor of independence it was a question of 
no very long time for the rest of the southern 


provinces to fall into line, even at the sacrifice 
of strong prejudices. Still the conciliationists, 
not giving up the struggle, spread reports that 
commissioners were coming from the king on 
an errand of peace and harmony. Their talk 
bred vexatious delay and aroused Mr. Adams's 
ire. " A more egregious bubble," he said, 
" was never blown up, yet it has gained credit 
like a charm not only with, but against, the 
clearest evidence." " This story of commis- 
sioners is as arrant an illusion as ever was 
hatched in the brain of an enthusiast, a politi- 
cian, or a maniac. I have laughed at it, scolded 
at it, grieved at it, and I don't know but I may 
at an unguarded moment have rip'd at it. But 
it is vain to reason against such delusions." 

Still among these obstructions the great mo- 
tive power worked ceaselessly and carried 
steadily forward the ship of state, or rather 
the fleet of thirteen ships which had lashed 
themselves together just sufficiently securely 
to render uniform movement a necessity. Fast- 
ened between New England and Virginia, the 
middle states had to drift forward with these 
flanking vessels. Chief engineer Adams fed 
the fires and let not the machinery rest. A 
personal attack upon him made at this time 
was really a hopeful symptom of the despera- 
tion to which his opponents were fast being re* 


duced. Maryland instructed her delegates to 
move a self-denying ordinance, of which the 
implication was that Mr. Adams was urging 
forward independence because he was chief"^ us- 
tice of Massachusetts, and so had a personal gain 
to achieve by making the office permanent. 
But not much could be gained by this sort of 
strategy. By the spring he was very sanguine. 
" As to decla rations of_independency," h e said 
tojiis3vif e^ " be patient . Read our pr ivateer - 
in g laws and our commercial laws. What sig- 
nifies a word ? " Yet the word did signify a 
great deal, and he was resolved that it should 
be spoken bluntly and with authority. 

He saw that it would be so spoken very soon. 
On May 29, 1776, he wrote cheerfully : " Mary- 
land has passed a few eccentric resolves, but 
these are only flashes which will soon expire. 
The proprietary governments are not only in- 
cumbered with a large body of Quakers, but are 
embarrassed by a proprietary interest ; both 
together clog their operations a little, but these 
clogs are falling off, as you will soon see." 
The middle colonies had " neyertasted the bit- 
ter cup," "never smarted," and were " therefore 
a little cooler ; but you will see that tbe colonies 
are united indissolubly." Of this union he was 
assured: "Those few persons^!' he said, "who 
have attended c losely to the proceedings of th e 


several colonies for a number of years past, and 
reflected deeply upon the causes of this mighty 
contest, have foreseen that such an unanimity 
would take place as soon as a separation should 
become necessary." One immense relief he 
was now enjoying, which probably contributed 
not a little to raise his spirits. The odious 
season of reticence was over ; he was at last 
able to work in the cause openly and inces- 
santly, in Congress and out of it, in debate, on 
committees, and in conversation. His influ- 
ence was becoming very great ; his hand was 
felt everywhere ; during the autumn of 1775, 
the winter and spring of 1776, he says that he 
unquestionably did more business than any 
other member of the body. He had broad ideas ; 
he practiced a deep and far-reaching strategy. 
Long since he had conceived and formulated 
a complete scheme of independence, and he laid 
his plans to carry this through piece by piece, 
with the idea that when every item which 
went to the construction of the composite fact 
should be accomplished, so that the fact unde- 
niably existed, then at last its declaration, even 
if postponed so late, could no longer be with- 
stood. The iliree^ljLial-^xiicJ^s^in Jrisjscjienie, 
still remaining to be accomplished, were, " a 
government in every colony, a confederation 
among them.- all, and treaties with foreign nar 


tions to acknowledge us a sovereign state ." In 
fact, "a government in every colony" really 
covered the whole ground, and was independ- 
ence. A league between these free govern- 
ments, and connections with foreign states were 
logically only natural and desirable corollaries, 
not integral parts of the proposition ; but practi- 
cally they were very useful links to maintain it. 
By the month of May the stage had been 
reached at which the general organization of 
free governments among the states, many of 
which had not yet gone through the form, 
seemed possible. On May 6 Mr. Adams 
brought forward a resolution, which, after be- 
ing debated three days, was passed upon May 
9. It recommended to those several colonies, 
wherein no government u sufficient to the exi- 
gencies of their affairs ' had yet been estab- 
lished, to adopt such a government as should 
" best conduce to the happiness and safety " of 
themselves and of America. Good so far as it 
went, this resolve was yet felt to be somewhat 
vague and easy of evasion. To cure these de- 
fects Mr. Adams, Mr. Rutledge, and Mr. Lee 
were directed to prepare a preamble. They 
reported, on May 15, a paragraph which cov- 
ered the whole ground of separation from Great 
Britain and independence of the colonies. This 
skillful composition recited that his Britannic 


Majesty, in conjunction with, the Lords and 
Commons, had " excluded the inhabitants of 
these United Colonies from the protection of 
his crown ; that the whole force of his king- 
dom, aided by foreign mercenaries, was being 
exerted for the destruction of the good people 
of these colonies ; that it was irreconcilable to 
reason and good conscience for the colonists 
now to take oaths and affirmations for the sup- 
port of any government under the crown of 
Great Britain ; that it was necessary that every 
kind of authority under that crown should be 
totally suppressed, and that all the powers of 
government should be exerted under the au- 
thority of the people of the colonies," etc., etc. 
T his was plain speaking, which no one could 
p retend to misunderstand. It involypd \r\ c \p - 
pp.ndpnpp. though i t was not ft formal ajid <>*- 
plicit qWlaration : — bnLit^was the substance, 
the thing itself ? only verba l recognition of the vpnminprl ftft j)P. marlf^ an d Was of Cours e 

inevitable. This was sufficiently well appre- 
ciated ; Mr. Duane said that this was a " piece 
of mechanism to work out independence." The 
moderatists fought hard and not without bit- 
terness, though they recognized that they were 
foredoomed to defeat. Finally the preamble 
was adopted. Mr. Adams was profoundly 
happy in his triumph, but he was too deeply 


impressed with, the grandeur of the occasion, 
too much overawed by a consciousness of his 
own leading part and chief responsibility, to 
be jubilant or elated as over a less momentous 
victory. He writes almost solemnly to his 
wife : — 

M Is it not a saying of Moses : * Who am I, that I 
should go in and out before this great people ? ' 
When I consider the great events which are passed 
and those greater which are rapidly advancing, and 
that I may have been instrumental in touching some 
springs and turning some small wheels, which have 
had and will have such effects, I feel an awe upon 
my mind which is not easily described. Great Brit- 
ain has at last driven America to the last step, a 
complete separation from her, a total, absolute inde- 
pendence, not only of her parliament but of her 
crown. For such is the amount of the resolve of the 
15th. Confederation among ourselves or alliances 
with foreign nations are not necessary to a perfect 
separation from Great Britain. . . . Confederation 
will be necessary for our internal concord, and alli- 
ances may be so for our external defense." 

Mr. Adams was of opinion that this step 
could have been wisely taken at a much earlier 
date, had it not been for the foolish delays in- 
terposed by delegates who " must petition and 
negotiate," notably the Pennsylvanians, aided 
by a few New Yorkers and some others from 


the lukewarm middle states. He believed that 
twelve months before " t he people _we re_ag_ripe 
as th ey are now." But this must be doubted . 
Looking back upon the progres s, it seems to 
ha ve been sufficiently rapid for safety and per - 

The thorough approbation entertained for 
this action of Congress was at once made mani- 
fest in the alacrity with which the several colo- 
nies prepared to assume the functions of in- 
dependence. Even Pennsylvania recognized 
that the gift of freedom was proffered to her 
accompanied by such a pressure of circum- 
stances that she could not reject it. Her effete 
assembly of conciliation ists was dying of inani- 
tion. A body of representatives was chosen 
by the people, and voted " that the government 
of this province is not competent for the exi- 
gencies of our affairs." 

But it was desirable that a fact of such su- 
preme importance as the birth of thirteen new 
nations should not remain merely a matter of 
logical inference. It must be embodied in a 
declaration incapable of misinterpretation, not 
open to be explained away by ingenious con- 
structions or canceled by technical arguments. 
Independence could not be left to be gathered 
among the recitals of a preamble. Readers will 
probably forgive me for narrating in the brief- 


est manner the familiar story of the passage of 
the great Declaration. QAjune 7, Richard 
Henrys Lee -of Virginia moved " certain resolu- 
tions respecting independency." John Adams 
seconded the motion. Its consideration was re- 
ferred to the next morning at ten o'clock, when 
members were " enjoined to attend punctually." 
A debate of three days ensued. It appeared 
that four New England colonies and three 
southern colonies were prepared to vote at once 
in the affirmative ; but unanimity was desirable 
and could probably be obtained by a little de- 
lay. So a postponement was voted until July 1. 
There was abundance of work to be done in 
the mean time, not only in the provinces, but 
in Congress also, where the machinery for the 
new order of things was all to be constructed 
and set in order, ready for immediate use so 
soon as the creative vote could be taken. Three 
committees were appointed; one was charged 
with drafting the document itself, so that it 
should be ready for adoption on July l.-^The 
members of this committee, in order of prece- 
dence, were Jefferson, John Adams, Franklin, 
Sherman, and R. R. Livingston. A second 
committee was deputed to devise a scheme for 
a confederation between the colonies ; a third 
had the duty of arranging a plan for treaties 
with foreign powers. Upon this last committee 


also Adams was placed, though in company 
with colleagues by no means of his way of 
thinking. On the . following day he was further 
put at the head of a " board of war and ord- 
nance," consisting of five members of Congress 
and charged with a multiplicity of laborious 
duties. Evidently these were busy days for 
him. But they were days of triumph in which 
work was a pleasure. All those matters which 
had been promoted by him more zealously than 
by any other delegate seemed now on the eve 
of accomplishment ; and then, he said, " I shall 
think that I have answered the end of my crea- 
tion, and sing my nunc dimittis, return to my 
farm, ride circuits, plead law, or judge causes." 
So confident was he of the sure and speedy 
achievement of his purpose that he actually be- 
gan now to preach patience to others. 

When it came to the matter of writing the 
Declaration, some civilities were exchanged be- 
tween Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson, each po- 
litely requesting the other to undertake it. But 
as it had been probably generally expected, if 
not tacitly understood, that Jefferson should do 
the composition, he readily engaged to try his 
hand. In old age Jefferson and Adams made 
statements slightly differing from each other 
concerning this transaction. Jefferson said that 
he submitted his paper to Franklin and Adams 


separately, that each interlined in his own 
handwriting such corrections as occurred to 
him, but that these were " two or three only 
and merely verbal ; " that the instrument was 
then reported by the committee. • Adams said 
that after the paper was written he and Jeffer- 
son conned it over together, that he was de- 
lighted with its " high tone and flights of ora- 
tory," and that, according to his recollection, 
he neither made nor suggested any alteration, 
though he felt sure that the passage concerning 
slavery would be rejected by the southern del- 
egates, and though there were some expressions 
which he did not wholly approve, especially 
that which stigmatized George III. as a tyrant. 
The paper, he says, was then read before the 
whole committee of five, and he could not re- 
call that it was criticised at all. The variance 
between these two accounts is insignificant, 
and in view of the fact that they were made 
nearly half a century after the events took 
place, it is only surprising that they were not 
more discordant. The controversy excited 
some interest at the time and afterwards ; 
though, as Mr. C. F. Adams truly says, the 
question " does not rise beyond the character 
of a curiosity of literature." Yet he himself 
cares enough about it to endeavor to show that 
his grandfather's statement has not been dis« 


credited by the evidence. But the contrary 
seems to be the more correct conclusion. The 
only evidence of any real value which exists in 
the case is the original draft of the Declara- 
tion in Jefferson's handwriting, bearing two or 
three trifling alterations interlined in the hand- 
writings of Adams and Franklin. It should 
be noted, too, that Jefferson assumes to speak 
positively, while Adams carefully limits his 
statement by saying that it is according to his 
present memory. His memory was not a per- 
fectly trustworthy one. 

On July 1, debate was resumed in committee 
of the whole on the original resolution of Mr. 
Lee, which was reported to Congress and car- 
ried by that body on the next day. The Dec- 
laration was then at once reported and dis- 
cussed until late on July 4. There was no 
doubt that it would be carried, but Dickinson 
and others who remained strongly opposed to 
it were determined, as a sort of solemn though 
hopeless duty, to speak out their minds against 
iL Jefferson, utterly helpless in debate, sat 
silent and very uncomfortable, while the hob 
battle raged. John Adams, in this supreme 
hour, bore the whole burden of supporting a 
measure which he regarded as the consumma- 
tion of all the labor expended by him since he 
came into public life, — substantially as " the 


end of his creation," as he had said. His in- 
tense earnestness, his familiarity with every 
possible argument, compelled him to be mag- 
nificently eloquent. He himself did not know 
what a grand effort he was making, but his 
hearers have borne their testimony to his power 
and impressiveness in many tributes of ardent 
praise. Jefferson uttered words of warmest 
admiration and gratitude. Adams, he said, 
was the " Colossus of that debate." Stockton 
called him the " Atlas of independence." His 
praise was in every mouth. 

On July 3, Adams wrote two letters to his 
wife. In one he said : " Yesterday the great- 
est question was decided which ever was de- 
bated in America, and a greater perhaps never 
was nor will be decided among men." In the 
other : *' The second day of July, 1776, will be 
the most memorable epoch in the history of 
America. I am apt to believe that it will be 
celebrated by succeeding generations as the 
great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be 
commemorated as the day of deliverance, by 
solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It 
ought to be solemnized with pomp, and parade, 
with shows, games, sports, bells, bonfires, and 
illuminations, from one end of this continent 
to the other, from this time forward for ever- 
more. You will think me transported with en- 


thusiasra, but I am not. I am well aware of 
the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost 
us to maintain this Declaration, and support 
and defend these states. Yet through all the 
gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and 
glory. I can see that the end is more than 
worth all the means ; and that posterity will 
triumph in that day's transaction, even though 
we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall 
not." Posterity has selected for its anniver- 
sary July 4, instead of July 2, though the ques- 
tion was really settled on the earlier day. 




Amid the exultation and excitement attend- 
ant upon these closing hours of American colo- 
nialism, Adams gave striking evidence of the 
cool judgment and statesmanlike comprehen- 
sion which constituted a solid stratum beneath 
his impetuous temper. He wrote to Samuel 
Chase : — 

" If you imagine that I expect this Declaration 
will ward off calamities from this country, you are 
much mistaken. A bloody conflict we are destined 
to endure. This has been my opinion from the be- 
ginning. . . . Every political event since the nine- 
teenth of April, 1775, has confirmed me in this 
opinion. If you imagine that I flatter myself with 
happiness and halcyon days after a separation from 
Great Britain, you are mistaken again. I do not ex- 
pect that our new government will be so quiet as I 
could wish, nor that happy harmony, confidence, and 
affection between the colonies, that every good Amer- 
ican ought to study and pray for, for a long time. 
But freedom is a counterbalance for poverty, discord, 
and war, and more. It is your hard lot and mine to 


be called into life at such a time. Yet even these 
times have their pleasures." 

In such words there spoke a cool states- 
man as well as a warm patriot, accurately 
measuring a great victory even in the flush of 
it, appreciating justly the struggles yet to 

The enthusiastic gentleman, who called Mr. 
Adams the Atlas of American independence, 
confused the fact of independence with the 
declaration of it. The only Atlas of American 
independence was the great leader who won 
the War of the Revolution. He established 
the fact ; Mr. Adams induced Congress to de- 
clare it. To Mr. Adams belongs, accurately 
speaking, the chief credit for having not only 
defended the -^Declaration^ triumphantly in de- 
bate, but for having brought his fellow-dele- 
gates to the point of passing votes which, prior 
to the formal declaration, involved it as a logi- 
cal conclusion. His earnestness in this cause 
appears to have been greater than that of any 
other member ; he pressed upon his object as 
a beleaguering army presses upon a city ; he 
captured one outwork after another ; week by 
week he made the ultimate result more and 
more inevitable by inducing Congress to take 
one step after another in the desired direction ; 
his intensity of purpose affected others, as it 


always will ; his tenacity was untiring ; "his elo- 
quence was never silent ; so thoroughly did he 
study the subject that no individual could cope 
with the force, variety, readiness, and breadth 
of his arguments ; so keen did his perceptions 
become beneath the influence of his deep re- 
solve that he was able so far to subdue his own 
nature as to become diplomatic, ingenious, and 
patient in his methods. The same result would 
without doubt have been reached had John 
Adams never existed, so that in a certain sense 
of the words, the declaration was not due to 
him ; but as that phrase is ordinarily used, to 
signify that his efforts were the most conspicu- 
ous visible impulse, it is proper to say that the 
achievement was his work. 

Foolish as it generally is to speculate upon 
what would have been if historical events had 
not occurred as they did, yet occasionally a sup- 
position seems sure enough to be of interest 
and value in enabling us to appreciate the im- 
portance of an individual and the relationship 
of some prominent man to the public affairs 
in which he is concerned. No one doubts that 
the American colonies would at some time or 
other have become independent states, though 
George Washington had never lived. But no 
one who has carefully studied that period can 
doubt that independence would not have been 


achieved in the especial struggle of 1776 with- 
out George Washington. His existence was 
essential to American success in that war. 
With him the colonies were on the verge of 
failure ; without him they would inevitably 
have passed over that verge, and would have 
had to wait during an uncertain period for a 
better opportunity. The combination of his 
moral and mental qualities was so singular that 
he is an absolutely unique character in history. 
Other men belong to types and classes, and in- 
dividual members of any type or class may be 
compared with each other. Washington is the 
only man of his type or class. Thus it hap- 
pens that no one has yet succeeded in describ- 
ing his character. All efforts have been at 
best suggestive or contributory. There have 
been men as honest, as just, as patriotic, as de- 
voted, as persistent, as noble-minded, as digni- 
fied, as much above suspicion, men as capable 
of inspiring that confidence which leads to will- 
ing obedience, men infinitely more magnetic 
and able to excite much warmer personal alle- 
giance, men of larger brains, of greater strate- 
gic abilities natural and acquired, of wider ap- 
titude for statesmanship. Yet still Washington 
stands by himself, a man not susceptible of 
comparison with any other, whether for praise 
or disparagement ; a man who never did a sin- 


gle act indicative of genius, yet who amid 
problems as novel and perplexing as ever tor- 
tured the toiler in public affairs never made a 
serious mistake. One writer will tell us that 
it was the grand morality of his nature which 
brought him success ; another prefers to say 
that it was his judgment ; but neither of these 
mere suggestions of leading traits accomplishes 
the explanation, or guides us to the heart of 
the undiscoverable secret. This lurks as hid- 
den from the historian as does the principle of 
life from the anatomist. 

John Adams's character, on the other hand, 
can puzzle no one ; his broad, earnest, powerful, 
impetuous, yet simple humanity is perfectly in- 
telligible, equally in its moral and in its mental 
developments. In his department he promoted 
independence more efficiently than any one else, 
he would have been a greater loss than any 
other one man in Congress to that cause ; but 
independence would not have been lost in his 
loss, would probably not even have been seri- 
ously postponed. Popular sentiment would 
have demanded it and Congress would have re- 
flected that sentiment almost as soon, though 
the tongue of Mr. Adams had never moved. 
Adams, however, could never fully realize this 
essential difference between the value of his 
own personality and the value of that of Wash- 


.ngton. Throughout life he felt that, in the 
preeminence universally given to Washington, 
he was robbed of insignia properly appurtenant 
to his glory. In 1822, in a letter to Mr. Pick- 
ering, he recalled the jealousy and distrust 
towards New England in the earlier stages of 
the struggle, and the resulting necessity upon 
him of keeping somewhat in the rear in order 
to give an apparent leadership to Virginia. 
The whole policy of the United States, he said, 
had been subsequently colored and affected by 
this same state of feeling, and this consequent 
according of precedence to Southerners. " With- 
out it Mr. Washington would never have com- 
manded our armies ; nor Mr. Jefferson have 
been the author of the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence ; nor Mr. Richard Henry Lee the 
mover of it ; nor Mr. Chase the mover of for- 
eign connections ; . . . nor had Mr. Johnson 
ever been the nominator of Washington for 
General." There was some justice in Mr. 
Adams's feeling ; the suspicion entertained 
towards Massachusetts had compelled him to 
yield to others a conspicuousness really belong- 
ing to himself. Jefferson, Lee, Chase, and 
Johnson together were far from constituting an 
equivalent for him. But his unconquerable 
blunder, originating in 1776-77, before he left 
"Congress, and acquiring much greater propor* 


fcions afterwards, lay in his utter incapacity to 
see that there could be no comparison between 
Washington and himself, that not even any 
common measure could exist for them, since it 
is impossible to establish a proportion between 
the absolutely essential and the highly impor- 

Before Mr. Adams left Congress in the spring 
of 1777 he was obliged to witness such a train 
of disasters as made every one despondent, — 
the defeat on Long Island, the evacuation of 
New York, the retreat through the Jerseys, the 
abandonment of Philadelphia. Deep discour- 
agement prevailed, certainly not without rea- 
son. The times were critical, and the colonies 
were terribly near ruin. General Greene re- 
iterated to Mr. Adams that the business was 
hopeless. Such a series of events naturally 
produced some feeling of doubt concerning 
the capacity of Washington ; personal and less 
honorable motives also exercised a like influ- 
ence in some quarters. There was an effort to 
set up Gates as a rival, after the surrender of 
Burgoyne. Adams was fortunately no longer 
a member of Congress when these designs had 
come near maturity. It is probable that he 
thus fortunately escaped any share in them ; 
but his affiliations had been so largely with 
those who became anti-Washingtonians, and 


his predilections were already so far known, 
that he was regarded as of that connection and 
sympathy. Mr. C. F. Adams endeavors to 
clear his grandfather from the obloquy attend- 
ant upon such sentiments, but he is obviously 
uncomfortable beneath the necessity and per- 
forms his task unsatisfactorily. Really his best 
sentences are those in which he shapes not so 
much a denial as a palliation, — " Neither is it 
any cause of wonder or censure that the patri- 
ots in Congress, who had not yet any decisive 
experience of his [Washington's] true qualities, 
should have viewed with much uneasiness the 
power which circumstances were accumulating 
in his hands. History had no lesson to prompt 
confidence in him, and on the other hand it 
was full of warnings. In this light the attempt, 
whilst organizing another army in the north, 
to raise up a second chief as a resource in case 
of failure with the first, must be viewed as a 
measure not without much precautionary wis- 
dom." This " attempt," he acknowledges, was 
" actively promoted " by John Adams. In spite 
of the plausible skill with which this argument 
is put, it remains an excuse rather than a vin- 
dication. It was John Adams's business to 
form a correct judgment of men and measures ; 
so far as he failed to do so he failed to show the 
ability demanded by his position ; if his error 


was wholly of the head, it affects only our opin- 
ion of the soundness of his judgment in mili- 
tary matters and in reading men ; if any per- 
sonal motive, though unrecognized by himself, 
likewise interfered, this fact may lower a little 
our opinion of his character. 

Mr. Adams had spoken of the Declaration of 
Independence as the " end of his creation." 
The arduous and exhausting efforts which he 
made to achieve it told so severely upon his 
health that his words threatened to be fulfilled 
in a sense quite different from that in which 
he had uttered them. But worn out as he 
was, the consummation brought him no rest. 
The Declaration at once proved to be a begin- 
ning of more than it had brought to an end. 
The thirteen embryotic nations, created by it, 
were to be united into a single nationality, or 
federation, of a character so peculiar that no 
historical precedent afforded any real aid in 
the task. In this direction Mr. Adams was 
able to render very important services. From 
the beginning he had given much thought to 
the subject of government. " Would that we 
were good architects ! " had been his anxious 
cry long before the conciliationists had been 
worsted or permanent separation had appeared 
other than a remote possibility. His services 
in promoting independence have naturally mo- 


nopolized attention almost to the entire exclu- 
sion of his other labors. But in fact, though 
more showy, they were not so greatly more 
valuable than other matters which he was car- 
ing for at this time, and which have been very 
little heard of. They were in their nature de- 
structive ; it was at the annihilation of royal 
domination that they were aimed, from which 
independence was the inevitable result. But 
destruction seldom demands the highest order 
of intellectual effort ; a destroyer is not a states- 
man ; and if John Adams had only been the 
chief mover in substituting independence for 
dependence, it would be more complimentary 
than accurate to say that he was the statesman 
of the Revolution. There were enough other 
destroyers in those days, and that work was 
sure to be thoroughly done. But Adams had 
the higher, constructive faculty. Many re- 
marks and sentences, scattered through his 
contemporaneous writings during the revolu- 
tionary period, show his quick natural eye for 
governmental matters ; he seems to be in a 
ceaseless condition of observation and thought 
concerning them. The influence which he ex- 
erted was so indefinite that it can be estimated 
hardly with a valuable approximation to ac- 
curacy ; but it must have been very great. 
He was constantly engaged in studying the 


forms of government in the middle and in the 
southern sections, each differing widely from 
those of New England as well as from each 
other. He used to speculate upon the varying 
influences of these forms, and to consider what 
changes must be effected in order to accom- 
plish unanimity of feeling and of action. From 
an early day his eye had ranged forward to the 
time when the existing systems must be suc- 
ceeded by different ones, and he busied himself 
much with thinking what new principles should 
be incorporated in the new machinery. He 
watched with anxiety all indications of opinion 
in this direction, and lost no opportunity to in- 
culcate his own ideas, which were clear and 
decided. Many months prior to the time at 
which we are now arrived, Tom Paine pub- 
lished " Common Sense." Adams, to whom 
this anonymous but famous publication was by 
many attributed, was in fact greatly disgusted 
at the lack of the architectural element in it, 
and was soon stirred to write and publish an- 
other pamphlet, also anonymous, which was de- 
signed to supply the serious deficiency of 
Paine's. This paper profoundly discussed plans 
and forms of government in a practical way, 
for the purpose of meeting the near wants of 
the colonies. Its authorship being shrewdly 
surmised, it was widely circulated and read 


with great interest, especially by those men in 
the several provinces who were soon to be 
chiefly concerned in framing the new constitu- 
tions. Adams modestly said of it, that it had 
at least " contributed to set people thinking on 
the subject," so that the "manufacture of gov- 
ernments " became for the time " as much 
talked of as that of saltpetre was before." Of 
course it is impossible to say what effect this 
pamphlet had ; yet that it had very much is 
more than probable. 

With his habit of noticing such matters 
Adams had early remarked upon the difference 
between the theories of state -polity at the 
North and at the South, a difference much 
wider apparently in the spirit of administration 
than in the description of the apparatus. He 
himself was saturated, so to speak, with the 
doctrines and practice of New England, and 
whether in writing or in talk he was never 
backward to enforce his faith with the extreme 
earnestness of deep conviction. By corre- 
spondence and conversation with leading men 
in every quarter he efficiently backed his pam- 
phlet. When, therefore, the innovation of a 
more popular and democratic spirit is observ- 
able in one and another of the new constitu- 
tions, it is fair to presume that Adams had done 
much to bring about the change. In a letter 


to Patrick Henry, accompanying his pamphlet T 
Adams said : " The dons, the bashaws, the 
grandees, the patricians, the sachems, the na- 
bobs, call them by what name you please, 1 
sigh, groan, and fret, and sometimes stamp and 
foam and curse ; but all in vain. The decree 
is gone forth and it cannot be recalled, that a 
more equal liberty than has prevailed in other 
parts of the earth must be established in Amer- 
ica. That exuberance of pride, which has pro- 
duced an insolent domination in a few, a very 
few, opulent, monopolizing families, will be 
brought down nearer to the confines of reason 
and moderation than they have been used to." 
To Mr. Hughes of New York he writes, dep- 
recating any scheme " for making your gov- 
ernor and counselors for life or during good be~ 
havior. I should dread such a constitution in 
these perilous times. . . . The people ought to 
have frequently the opportunity, especially in 
these dangerous times, of considering the con- 
duct of their leaders, and of approving or dis- 
approving. You will have no safety without 
it." He says that Pennsylvania is " in a good 
way. . . . The large body of the people will 
be possessed of more power and importance, 
and a proud junto of less." In a letter to 

3 Elsewhere he called them, by a, better nomenclature, " the 
barons of the South." 


Richard Henry Lee he rejoices because there 
will be " niuch more uniformity in the govern- 
ments than could have been expected a few 
months ago," a result presumably due in large 
part to his own unremitting exertions. His 
" Thoughts on Government " had done good 
work in Virginia, far beyond his expectations, 
and generally he was " amazed to find an in- 
clination so prevalent throughout all the south- 
ern colonies to adopt plans so nearly resem- 
bling that " which he had enforced in his po- 
litical sermons. 

Immediately following independence came 
also a necessity for the formation of a federa- 
tion. Some sort of a bond, a league, must be 
devised for tying the thirteen nations together 
for a few purposes. Nevertheless, the alliance 
was not to have the effect of creating a single 
nationality, was not to deprive each ally of its 
character of absolute sovereignty as an individ- 
ual state. Mr. Adams recognized that this 
could not be done at once in any. perfect or 
permanent form. Whatever should be ar- 
ranged now would necessarily be an experi- 
ment, a temporary expedient, out of which, by 
a study of its defects as they should develop, 
there might in time be evolved a satisfactory 
system. But none the less zealously did he 
enter upon the task of making the federation 


as efficient as possible under the circumstances, 
and he did much hard and important work in 
this department. No sketch of it can well be 
given in this limited space, nor perhaps would 
such a sketch be very valuable except to a stu- 
dent of constitutional history. Therefore, after 
July 4, 1776, the remainder of Adams's Con- 
gressional career, though laborious to the point 
of exhaustion, gives no salient points for de- 
scription. It was in the routine of business 
that his time was now consumed, and very 
largely in work upon the committees. It 
would seem that there could not have been 
many of these upon which he had not a place ; 
for he was a member of upwards of ninety 
which were recorded, and of a great many oth- 
ers which were unrecorded. He says that he 
was kept incessantly at work from four o'clock 
in the morning until ten o'clock at night. Be- 
sides the arduous business of forming the fed- 
eration, he was also obliged to devote himself 
to that subject, with which his previous efforts 
had already allied him in the minds of mem- 
bers, the establishment of connections with 
European powers. Independence would not 
permit this important matter to be longer post- 
poned ; and a committee, of which Adams was 
an important working member, was charged to 
consider and report a system of foreign policy 


for the thirteen colonies, and to suggest forms 
of commercial treaties. 

But labors more difficult, more vexatious, 
more omnivorous of time, were entailed upon 
Mr. Adams by his position at the head of the 
war department. The task of organization 
was enormous; the knowledge and arrange- 
ment of details were appalling. Nor was this 
all. The power of Congress, if any real power 
it had, over the army, was so undefined even 
in theory, so vague in its practical bearing 
upon the officers, so difficult of enforcement, 
that the relationship of the Congressional com- 
mittee, which really constituted the war de- 
partment, with that body, was excessively deli- 
cate. Adams's jealous and hasty temperament 
was subjected to some severe trials. Aggrieved 
officers would sometimes become not only 
disrespectful but insubordinate. But in such 
crises he acquitted himself well. A sense of 
weakness in the last resort perhaps prevented 
his giving loose to any outburst of anger, while 
his high spirit and profound earnestness lent 
to his language an impressive force and an ap 
pearance of firmness almost imperious. His 
deep sincerity inspired all his communications 
and gave them a tone which procured respect 
and turned aside resentment. He breathed 
into others an honesty of purpose, a vigor, a 


devotedness akin to his own. Being also a 
man of much business ability and untiring in- 
dustry, he made, substantially, a war-minister 
admirably adapted to the peculiar and exact- 
ing requirements of that anomalous period. 

But it was impossible that a man not enjoy- 
ing a rugged physique could endure for an in- 
definite time labors so engrossing and anxie- 
ties so great, away from the comforts of home, 
and in a climate which, during many months of 
the year, appeared to him extremely hot. His 
desire for relief, more and more earnestly ex- 
pressed, at last took a definite and resolute 
shape. He wanted to have the Massachusetts 
delegation so increased in numbers that the 
members could take turns in attending Con- 
gress and in staying at home. If this could 
not be done, he tendered his resignation. The 
reply came in the shape of a permission to 
take a long vacation, which he did in the winter 
of 1776-7. Then he returned to spend the 
spring, summer, and autumn of 1777 in a con- 
tinuance of the same labors which have just 
been described. At last the limit of specific 
duties which he had long ago set for himself 
having been achieved and even overpast, he 
definitively carried out his design of retirement. 



It was on November 11, 1777, that John 
Adams, accompanied by his kinsman Samuel 
Adams, set forth from Philadelphia on his 
homeward journey. He was at last a private 
citizen, rejoiced to be able again to attend to 
his own affairs, and to resume the important 
task of money - gathering at his old calling. 
Yet he was hardly allowed even to get on his 
professional harness. ' He was arguing an ad- 
miralty cause in Portsmouth when a letter 
reached him, dated December 3, 1777, from 
Richard Henry Lee and James Lovell, an- 
nouncing his appointment as commissioner at 
the court of France, wishing him a quick and 
pleasant voyage, and cheerfully suggesting that 
he should have his dispatch bags sufficiently 
weighted to be able to sink them instantly in 
case of capture. The day after he received 
this letter he accepted the trust, though the 
duty imposed by it was far from attractive. 
Besides the ordinary discomforts and perils of 


a winter passage in a sailing vessel he had to 
consider the chances of seizure by British ships, 
which covered the ocean and were taking mul- 
titudes of prizes. If captured, he would be but 
a traitor, having in prospect certainly the 
Tower of London and possibly all the penalties 
of the English statutes against high treason. 
If he should arrive safely, he would be only 
one of three commissioners at the French 
court; and France, though kindly rendering 
courteous services, had not yet become the ally 
of the states and was still in nominal friend- 
ship with Great Britain. Moreover, he was to 
step into an uninviting scene of dissension and 
suspicion. The states were represented by 
Franklin, Arthur Lee, and Silas Deane ; Adams 
was to supersede Deane, who had been embar- 
rassing Congress by reckless engagements with 
French military officers, and who in many other 
ways had shown himself, to say the best of it, 
eminently unfit for diplomatic functions. There 
was much ill-feeling, of which the new ambas- 
sador could not expect to escape a share. Al- 
together, it was greatly to his credit that he 
promptly agreed to fill the post. 

On February 13, 1778, he set sail in the 
frigate Boston, accompanied by his young son, 
John Quincy Adams. On the 20th, an English 
ship of war gave them chase. Adams urged the 


officers and crew to fight desperately, deeming 
it " more eligible " for himself " to be killed on 
board the Boston or sunk to the bottom in her, 
than to be taken prisoner." But a favoring 
breeze saved him from the choice between such 
melancholy alternatives, and on March 31 he 
found himself riding safely at anchor in the 
river at Bordeaux. 

At the French court he was pleasantly re- 
ceived. People, he says, at first supposed that 
he was " the famous Adams ; " but when 
somebody asked him if this were so, he mod- 
estly explained that he was only a cousin of 
that distinguished person. Thereafter he re- 
ceived less attention. It was unfortunate too 
that he knew nothing of the language ; but he 
got along, sometimes by the aid of an inter- 
preter, sometimes by " gibbering something 
like French." This deficiency, however, rather 
diminished his pleasure than his usefulness ; 
for he soon found that his chief labors were to 
be with his own countrymen and colleagues. 
The affairs of the mission he found much worse 
than he had anticipated. The jealousies and 
hostilities among the American representatives 
there were very great. He wrote in his diary : 
" It is with much grief and concern that I have 
learned, from my first landing in France, the 
disputes between the Americans in this king 


dom ; the animosities between Mr. Deane and 
Mr. Lee ; between Dr. Franklin and Mr. Lee ; 
between Mr. Izard and Dr. Franklin ; between 
Dr. Bancroft and Mr. Lee; between Mr. Car- 
michael and all. It is a rope of sand. I am 
at present wholly untainted with these preju- 
dices, and will endeavor to keep myself so." 
He heard that Deane and Bancroft had made 
fortunes by " dabbling in the English funds, and 
in trade, and in fitting out privateers ; " also 
that " the Lees were selfish." " I am sorry for 
these things ; but it is no part of my business 
to quarrel with anybody without cause." All 
the business and affairs of the commission had 
been conducted in the most lax manner ; no 
minute-book, letter-book, or account-book had 
been kept ; expenditure had been lavish, " pro- 
digious " as he said, but there was no way to 
learn how the money had gone or how much 
was still owing. Utterly inexperienced as he 
was in such affairs, he yet showed good sense 
and energy. He endeavored to avoid allying 
himself with any faction, siding now with 
Franklin and again with Lee according to his 
views of the merits of each specific discussion, 
and seeking at the same time not to lose the 
confidence of the Count de Vergennes, the 
French minister of foreign affairs, who was 
Very partial to Franklin and inimical to Lea 


Further, he set himself zealously to bring the 
business department of the mission into a 
proper condition. The commissioners had 
complete control over the fiscal affairs of the 
states abroad, and had heretofore managed them 
in a manner inconceivably loose and careless. 
As Mr. Adams wrote home to the commer- 
cial committee of Congress : " Agents of vari- 
ous sorts are drawing bills upon us, and the 
commanders of vessels of war are drawing on 
us for expenses and supplies which we never 
ordered. : . . We find it so difficult to obtain 
accounts from agents of the expenditure of 
moneys and of the goods and merchandises 
shipped by them, that we can never know the 
true state of our finances." All this shocked 
Mr. Adams, who had the notions and habits of 
a man of business, and he at once endeavored 
to arrange a system of rigorous accuracy and 
accountability, in spite of the indifference, and 
occasionally the reluctance, of his colleagues. 
Henceforth records were kept; letters were 
copied ; accounts were accurately set down. 

But the reforms in matters of detail which 
he could accomplish were by no means suffi- 
cient to counteract the clumsy and inefficient 
way in which the business of the states was 
conducted, and to which he had no mind to be 
even a silent party. An entire reorganization 


was evidently needed, and on May 21, 1778, he 
wrote a plain and bold letter, which he ad- 
dressed to Samuel Adams, since, apart from his 
colleagues, he could not properly communicate 
with Congress. He urged the gross impropri- 
ety of leaving the salaries of the ministers en* 
tirely uncertain, so that they spent what they 
chose and then sent their accounts (such as 
they were) to be allowed by Congress ; the 
error of blending the business of a public min- 
ister with that of a commercial agent ; and, 
most important of all, the folly of maintain- 
ing three commissioners where a single envoy 
would be vastly more serviceable. By such 
advice he knowingly advised himself out of 
office ; for Dr. Franklin was sure to be re- 
tained at the French court, Lee already had a 
letter of credence to Madrid, and no niche was 
left for him. But he was too honest a public 
servant to consider this, and he repined not 
at all when precisely this result came about. 
Congress lost no time in following his sugges- 
tions, leaving Franklin in Paris, and ordering 
Lee to Madrid, at the same time in a strange 
perplexity overlooking Mr. Adams so entirely 
as not even to order him to return home. He 
was greatly vexed and puzzled at this anomalous 
condition. Dr. Franklin, who was finding life 
near the French court very pleasant, advised 


him tranquilly to await instructions. But this 
counsel did not accord with his active tempera- 
ment or his New England sense of duty. He 
wrote to his wife : " I cannot eat pensions and 
sinecures ; they would stick in my throat." 
Rather than do so, he said that he would again 
run the gauntlet of the British cruisers and the 
storms of the Atlantic. It was no easy matter, 
however, to get a passage in those days, and his 
best endeavors did not bring him back to Bos- 
ton until August 2, 1779, after an absence of 
nearly a year and a half. In a certain sense 
his mission had been needless and useless. He 
had been away a long while, had undergone 
great dangers, and had cost the country money 
which could ill be spared ; and for all that he 
had accomplished strictly in the way of diplo- 
macy he might as well have spent the eighteen 
months at Braintree. But he had aided to 
break up an execrable condition of affairs at 
Paris, and he had proved his entire and un- 
selfish devotion to the public interest. These 
were two important facts, worth in their fruits 
all they had cost to the nation and to himself. 

He had moreover gathered some ideas con- 
cerning Great Britain, France, and Holland. 
These ideas were not wholly correct, being col- 
ored by the atmosphere of the passing day and 
stimulated too much by his own wishes ; but 


they promoted the temporary advantages of the 
states very well. For example, he came back 
with a theory of the decadence of Great Brit- 
ain. " This power," he said, "loses every day 
her consideration, and runs towards her ruin. 
Her riches, in which her power consisted, she 
has lost with us and never can regain. . . . She 
resembles the melancholy spectacle of a great, 
wide-spreading tree that has been girdled at the 
root." There was no grain of truth in this sort 
of talk, but it was nourishment to the American 
Congress. Towards France his feelings were 
of course most friendly. " The longer I live in 
Europe, and the more I consider our affairs, 
the more important our alliance with France 
appears to me. It is a rock upon which we 
may safely build. Narrow and illiberal preju- 
dices, peculiar to John Bull, with which I might 
ptrhaps have been in some degree infected 
when I was John Bull, have now no influence 
over me. I never was, however, much of John 
Bull, I was John Yankee, and such I shall live 
and die." A very single-minded John Yankee 
he certainly was, for amid all his yearning for 
a French alliance, which he valued for its prac- 
tical usefulness, he was jealous of too great a 
subservience to that power. 

" It is a delicate and dangerous connection. . . . 
There may be danger that too much will be demanded 


of us. There is danger that the people and their 
representatives may have too much timidity in their 
conduct towards this power, and that your ministers 
here may have too much diffidence of themselves 
and too much complaisance for the court. There is 
danger that French councils and emissaries and cor- 
respondents may have too much influence in our de- 
liberations. I hope that this court may not inter- 
fere by attaching themselves to persons, parties, or 
measures in America." 

Again he wrote that it would be desirable to 
link the two countries very closely together, 
"provided always, that we preserve prudence 
and resolution enough to receive implicitly no 
advice whatever, but to judge always for our- 
selves," etc., etc. Within a few months the 
need of this watchful independence was abun- 
dantly proved ; and the early years of the his- 
tory of the United States fully justified Adams's 
cautious dread of an undue warmth of senti- 
ment towards France. 




Scarcely was Mr. Adams given time to 
make his greetings to liis friends, after his re- 
turn through the gauntlet of storms and British 
cruisers, ere he was again set at work. A con- 
vention was summoned to prepare a constitu- 
tion for Massachusetts, and he was chosen a 
delegate. It was a congenial task, and he was 
early assuming an active and influential part 
in the proceedings when, more to his surprise 
than to his gratification, he was interrupted by- 
receiving a second time the honor of a foreign 
mission. The history of the establishment of 
diplomatic relations between the new states of 
North America and the old countries of Europe, 
the narrative of the reluctant and clumsy ap- 
proaches by England towards a negotiation for 
peace, and especially the intricate tale of the 
subtle manoeuvres of the French foreign office 
in connection with its trans-Atlantic allies and 
supposed dear friends, together form a remark 


ably interesting chapter in American history. 
All the complexities of this web, involved be- 
yond the average of diplomatic labyrinths,, 
have been unraveled with admirable clearness 
by Mr. C. F. Adams in his life of John Adams. 
A writer more competent to the difficult task 
could not have been desired, and he has so per- 
formed it that no successor can do more than 
follow his lucid and generally fair and dispas- 
sionate recital. His account of his grandfather 
is naturally tinged with the sentiment of the 
pius JEneas ; neither on the other hand can he 
condone the French minister's selfishness and 
duplicity, though really not excessive according 
to the technical code of morals in European for- 
eign offices of that day. But otherwise his ac- 
count of these events is keen, just, vivid, and 

During the period with which we have now 
to deal, the Count de Vergennes managed the 
foreign affairs of France. He was a diplomate 
of that school with which picturesque writers 
of historical romance have made us so familiar, 
a character as classic as the crusty father of 
the British stage ; of great ability, wily, far- 
sighted, inscrutable, with no liking for any 
country save France, and no hatred for any 
country except England, firm in the old-fash' 
ioned faith that honesty had no place in poli- 


tics, especially in diplomacy ; apt and graceful 
in the distinguished art of professional lying, 
overbearing and imperious as became the vin- 
dicator and representative of the power of the 
French monarchy. Such was this famous min- 
ister, a dangerous and difficult man with whom 
to have dealings. From the beginning to the 
end of his close connection with American af- 
fairs he played the game wholly for his own 
hand, with some animosity towards his oppo- 
nent, bat with not the slightest idea of commit- 
ting the folly of the pettiest self-sacrifice for 
the assistance oi his nominal partners. They 
were really to help him : he was apparently to 
help them. It ifl now substantially proved that 
the unmixed motive of the French cabinet in 
secreth encouraging and aiding the revolted 

O U I 

colonies, before open war had broken out be- 
tween Prance and England, had been only to 

weaken the power and to sap the permanent 
resources of the natural and apparently the 
eternal enemy oi Prance. After that war had 
been declared, the same purpose constituted the 
sole inducement to the alliance with the Amer- 
ican rebels. To the government of France, 
therefore, thus actuated, no gratitude was due 
from the colonists at any time, and in de Ver- 
gennes, as the embodiment of the foreign poL 
icy of that government, no confidence could be 


Bafely reposed. Yet the kindly feeling of grat- 
itude and the sense of obligation cherished for 
a generation in America towards France were 
not wholly erroneous or misplaced; for a con- 
Biderable proportion of the French people were 
warmly and generously interested in the suc- 
cess of the Revolution, and many individuals 
gave it not only sincere good-will but substan- 
tia] aid. Yet, though it is fair to mention and 
to remember this latter fact, we shall have 
nothing more to do with it in this narrative. 
;y Mr. .\<l;iins had bo deal with the governors, 
not with the governed. Bui whenhe first came 
to the country he no more understood than did 
the rest of his countrymen the real difference 
involved in this distinction. France was but 
an integral idea for him, and he approached her 
people and her government alike with an un- 
discriminat ing though somewhat cautious feel- 
ing of trust. It is important to note this fact, 
evidence of which may be found in some of his 
language quoted at the close of the last chap- 
ter, because it indicates that his subsequent 
suspicions of de Vergennes were the outgrowth 
of observation and not of any original disliking. 
Neither were these suspicions, which, it must 
be acknowledged, were soon awakened, stimu- 
lated by Mr. Adams's natural temperament ; 
for though he had a sirong element of suspicion 


in him, it was seldom set in action by any other 
spur than jealousy. The feeling towards the 
Frenchman was the keen instinct of a man at 
once shrewd and honest, which had satisfied 
him of the true condition of affairs even during 
his first visit to France. Almost alone among 
his countrymen, he even then saw that it was 
unwise for the colonies to give themselves blind- 
fold to the guidance of the great French min- 
ister. For a long while he was, if not entirely 
solitary, yei at least with few co-believers in 
this faith, and at times he occupied ;m invid- 
ious and dangerous position by reason of it. 
Bui by good fortune he persisted in it, and in 
all his action was controlled by it ; and if he 
can hardly he said thereby to have been led to 
save his country in spite of herself, yet at least 
it is undeniable that through this he accom- 
plished for her very much which would never 
have been accomplished by any person holding 
a different opinion in so vital a matter. 

Through the medium of M. Gerard, the 
French minister, or emissary to Congress, ad- 
vices came in the autumn of 1779 that England 
might not improbably soon be ready to nego- 
tiate for peace. In order to lose no time when 
this happy moment should be at hand, it was 
thought best to have an American envoy, pre* 
pared to treat, stationed in Europe to avail of 


the first opportunity which should occur. For 
this purpose, as has been said, Mr. Adams was 
selected ; on November 3, 1779, he received 
notice of his appointment, and on the next day 
he accepted it, with some expressions of reluc- 
tance and diffidence, which were probably sin- 
cere, since the mission was attended with both 
physical danger and the gravest possible re- 
sponsibility. On November 13 he put to sea 
in the frigate Le Sensible. She proved to be 
so unseaworthy that she could barely be 
brought into the port of Ferrol in safety ; and 
the passengers were compelled to make a long, 
tedious journey by land to Paris, amid hard- 
ships so severe that they seem incredible as oc- 
curring in a civilized country of Europe less 
than a century ago. 

Before Mr. Adams's instructions had been 
drafted, the noxious and perfidious influence of 
de Vergennes, — noxious and perfidious, that is 
to say, from an American point of view, — had 
had its first effect. For a while that minister's 
desire had been that the war should draw alone: 
a weary and endless length, in order the more 
thoroughly to drain the vitality of England. 
How severely the vitality of the colonies might 
also be drained was matter of indifference, so 
long as they retained strength enough to con- 
tinue fighting. To keep them up to their work 


his plan had been to give them tonics, in the 
shape of money, arms, and encouragement, se- 
cretly administered in such quantities as should 
be necessary in order to prevent their succumb- 
ing; but he had not cared to give them enough 
assistance, though it might be possible to do so, 
to enable them quite to conclude the struggle. 
Even the open outbreak of hostility between 
France and England had modified his designs 
only a little, and had affected the details rather 
than changed the fundamental theory of his 
action. Now, however, affairs having drifted 
to that point that the war seemed to be almost 
fought out, and peace looming apparently not 
very far away, he recognized only a sole object 
as necessary so far as the revolted states were 
concerned. He must see them independent ; 
so mighty a limb must be lopped forever from 
the parent trunk. Beyond this he cared for 
nothing else ; as for all the points which were 
of highest moment and dearest interest to those 
states, his dear and confiding allies, points of 
boundaries, fisheries, navigation of the Missis- 
sippi, and such like, he cared not in the least for 
any of these. The earliest indication of the feel- 
ing in Congress had been that stipulations con- 
cerning these three matters should be inserted 
in the instructions to the American negotiator 
as ultimata. But this by no means consorted 


with the views of de Vergennes, who saw that 
such ultimata might operate to obstruct a paci- 
fication desirable for France, if England should 
resolutely refuse them ; whereas, if they were 
urgent demands only and not ultimata, the 
sacrifice of them might indirectly effect some 
gain for France. They might be used as a 
price to Great Britain, and the thing bought 
with them might inure to France. Accord- 
ingly the strenuous efforts of M. Ge*rard were 
put forth, and finally with success, to pare down 
the Congressional instructions to the modest 
form desired by de Vergennes. It was voted 
that the envoy in treating for peace should have 
as his only ultimatum the recognition by Great 
Britain of the independence of the ex-colonies. 
But, in order not to abandon altogether these 
other important matters, he received also an- 
other and distinct commission for entering into 
a commercial treaty, and in this he was directed 
to secure the " right " to the fisheries. 

Massachusetts watched all this with extreme 
anxiety. The fisheries were to her matter o^ 
profound concern, far surpassing any question 
of boundary, and of vastly deeper interest than 
the navigation of the Mississippi. She was in- 
exorably resolved that this great industry of 
her people should never be annihilated. To 
this resolution of so influential a state the ap 


pointment of Mr. Adams was largely due. The 
matter of the foreign representation of the col- 
onies at this time was complicated by many in- 
trigues and quarrels, local jealousies, and per- 
sonal animosities. Thus it happened that New 
York and other states were willing to send Mr, 
Adams to Spain, but wished Mr. Jay to be the 
negotiator for peace. This arrangement would 
have sufficiently pleased de Vergennes also, 
whose keen perception and accurate advices 
had already marked Mr. Adams as a man likely 
to be obstructive to purely French interests. 
But the New Englanders clung with unflinch- 
ing stubbornness to their countryman. They 
are said to have felt that, ultimatum or no ulti- 
matunu he would save their fisheries if it were 
a human possibility t<> do so. They prevailed. 
Jay was appointed to Madrid, and Adams got 
the contingent commissions to England, for 
both peace and commerce. In the end Adams 
was ( hieily instrumental in saving the fisheries, 
ami it the choice of him was stimulated by this 
hope, the instinct or judgment appeared to 
have been correct. Yet it is perhaps worth no- 
ticing that his sentiments on this subject at 
this time were hardly identical with his subse- 
quent expressions at Paris. " Necessity," he 
said. " has taught us to dig in the ground in- 
stead of fishing in the sea for our bread, and 


we have found that the resource did not fail us. 
The fishing was a source of luxury and vanity 
that did us much injury." Part of the fish 
had been exchanged in the West Indies " for 
rum, and molasses to be distilled into rum, 
which injured our health and our morals ; " the 
rest came back from Europe in the shape of 
lace and ribbons. To be compelled to substi- 
tute the culture of flax: and wool for fishing, 
would conduce to an "acquisition of morals 
and of wisdom which would perhaps make us 
gainers in the end." Yet when it came actu- 
ally to negotiating, Mr. Adams forgot all this 
horror of rum and frippery, all this desire for 
flax, wool, and morals, and made a light for 
salt fish which won for him even more closely 
than before the heart of Now England. 

Mr. Adams was a singular man to be selected 
for a diilicult errand in diplomacy, especially 
under circumstances demanding wariness and 
adroitness, if not even craft and dissimulation. 
He might have been expected to prove but an 
indifferent player in the most intricate and ar- 
tificial of invented games. He seemed to pos- 
sess nearly every Quality which a diplomatist 
ought not to have, and almost no quality which 
a diplomatist needed. That he was utterly de- 
void of experience was the least objection, for 
bo were all his countrymen, and it was hoped 


that the friendly aid of de Vergennes might 
make up for this defect. But further than this 
he was of a restless, eager temperament, hot to 
urge forward whatever business he had in hand, 
chafing under any necessity for patience, dislik- 
ing to bide his time, frank and outspoken in 
spite of bis best efforts at self-control, and hope- 
lessly incapable of prolonged concealment of his 
opinions, motives, and purposes in action, his 
likings and dislikings towards persons. It has- 
been Been, for example, how cautiously he tried 
to conceal his wish for the declaration of inde- 
pendence, yet every one in Congress soon knew 
him as the chief promoter of thai doctrine; and 
already, in his brief and unimportant sojourn in 
Prance, de Vergennes had got far in reading his 
mind. Yet it so happened that, with every 
such prognostic against him, he was precisely 
the mm. for the place and the duty. With the 
shrewdness of his race lie had considerable in- 
sight into character ; a strong element of sus- 
picion led him not quite to assume, as he might 
have done, that all diplomatists were dishonest, 
but induced him to watch them with a wise 
doubt and keenness ; he had devoted all the 
powers of a strong mind to the study of the 
situation, so that he was thoroughly master of 
all the various interests and probabilities which 
it was necessary for him to take into account; 


he was a patriot to the very centre of his mar- 
row, and so fearless and stubborn that he both 
made and persisted in the boldest demands on 
behalf of his country; he was high-spirited, 
too, and presented such a front that he seemed 
to represent one of the greatest powers in the 
civilized world, so that, in spite of the well- 
known fact that he had only some revolted 
and more than half exhausted colonies at his 
back, yet his manly bearing had great moral 
effect; if it was true that quick-sighted states- 
men easily saw what he wanted, it was also 
true that he impressed them with a sense that 
he would make a hard fight to get it ; they 
could never expect to bully him, and not easily 
to circumvent him : if he made enemies, as he 
did, powerful, dangerous, and insidious ones, he 
at least showed admirable sturdiness and cour- 
age in facing them ; he was eloquent and forci- 
ble in discussion, making a deep impression by 
an air of earnest straightforwardness ; all these 
proved valuable qualifications upon the pecul- 
iar mission on which he was now dispatched. 
Had the business of the colonies been conducted 
by a diplomatist of the European school, burrow- 
ing subterraneously in secret mines and coun- 
termines, endeavoring to meet art with wiles, 
and diplomatic lies with professional falsehood, 
valuable time would surely have been lost, and 


smaller advantages would probably have been 
gained ; but Adams strode along stoutly in 
broad daylight, breaking the snares which were 
set for his feet, shouldering aside those who 
sought to crowd him from his path, unceremo- 
nious, making direct for his goal, with his eyes 
wide open and his tongue not silent to speak 
the plain truth. Certainly this trans-Atlantic 
negotiator excited surprise by his anomalous 
and un traditional conduct among the ministers 
and envoys of the European cabinets ; but in the 
end lie proved too much for them all ; their 
peculiar skill was of no avail against his novel 
and original tactics; their covert indirection 
could not stand before his blunt directness. 
So he carried his points with brilliant success. 

Yet it is not to be inferred from this record 
of achievements that Mr. Adams was a good 
diplomatist, or that in a career devoted to di- 
plomacy he could have won reputation or re- 
peated such triumphs as are about to be nar- 
rated. The contrary is probable. His heat, 
quickness, pugnacity, want of tact, and naive 

-tisin could not have been compatible with 
permanent success in this calling: It only so 
happened that at this special juncture, peculiar 
and exceptional needs existed which his quali- 
fications fortunately met. Dr. Franklin, who 
Was our minister at Versailles at this time, and 


with whom, by the way, Mr. Adams did not 
get along very well, had much more general 
fitness for diplomacy according to the usual re- 
quirements of the profession ; cool and dispas- 
sionate, keen, astute, and far-sighted, by no 
means incapable of discovering craft and of 
meeting it by still craftier craft, no nation in 
most emergencies could have wished its af- 
fairs in better hands than those of the distin- 
guished philosopher, as he was commonly 
called, though in fact he was the only living 
American of note in 1780 who was a real man 
of the world. Yet just now Franklin was al- 
most useless. Leading the most charming life, 
caressed by the French women, flattered by 
the French men, the companion of the noblest, 
the wittiest, and the most dissipated in the 
realm, visiting, dining, feasting, he comforta- 
bly agreed with de Vergennes, and quite con- 
tentedly fell in with that minister's policy. It 
was fortunate for the colonies that for a time, 
just at this crisis, the easy-going sage was 
forced into unwelcome coupling with the ener- 
getic man of business. 

Directly after his arrival in Paris Mr. Adams 
wrote to de Vergennes. " I am persuaded," 
he says, " it is the intention of my constituents 
and of all America, and I am sure it is my own 
determination, to take no steps of consequence 


in pursuance of my commissions without con- 
sulting his majesty's ministers." Accordingly 
he asks the count's advice as to whether he 
shall make his twofold errand known either 
to the public or to the court of London. This 
was abundantly civil, and under all the circum- 
stances not quite servile. The response of the 
Frenchman was extraordinary. He stated that 
he preferred to give no definite reply until af- 
ter the return from the states of his emissary, 
Monsieur Gerard, u because he is probably the 
bearer of your instructions, and will certainly 
be able to make me better acquainted with the 
nature and extent of your commission. But 
in the meantime I am of opinion that it will 
be prudent to conceal your eventual character, 
and above all to take the necessary precautions 
that the object of your commission may re- 
main unknown at the court of London." Mr. 
Adams heard with an indignation which he 
could not venture to express this audacious in- 
timation of a design, assumed to have been 
successfully carried out, to " penetrate into the 
secrets of Congress," and obtain " copies of the 
most confidential communications ' between 
that body and its ministers. Neither did the 
advice at all accord with his own notions. He 
saw no sound reason for keeping the object of 
his mission a secret ; on the contrary, he would 


decidedly have preferred at once to divulge it, 
and even formally to communicate it to the 
British cabinet. Probably he did not yet sus- 
pect what his grandson tells us was the true 
state of the case : viz., that de Vergennes 
dreaded the possible result of the commercial 
portion of his commission, and immediately 
upon learning it set agents at work in Phila- 
delphia to procure its cancellation. Neverthe- 
less he answered courteously and submissively, 
engaging to maintain the desired concealment 
so far as depended upon himself. He could 
not do otherwise ; it was intended that he 
should subordinate his own judgment to that 
of his French friend. But he wrote to the 
president of Congress to say that the story of 
his mission and its purpose had not been, as of 
course it could not have been, kept a close se- 
cret, but on the contrary, having been " heard 
of in all companies," had been used by the 
English ministerial writers " as evidence of a 
drooping spirit in America." This, however, 
concerned only his authority to treat for peace. 
A few days later, Monsieur Gerard having ar- 
rived, de Vergennes did Mr. Adams the honor 
to say that he found that Mr. Adams had given 
him a truthful statement of his instructions. 
He was willing now to have Mr. Adams's 
"eventual character," but meaning thereby 


only as an emissary for peace, made public 
very soon. He still persisted in demanding se- 
crecy as to " the full powers which authorize 
you to negotiate a treaty of commerce with the 
court of London. I think it will be prudent 
not to communicate them to anybody whatever, 
and to take every necessary precaution that 
the British ministry may not have a premature 
knowledge of them. You will no doubt easily 
feel the motives which induce me to advise you 
to take this precaution, and it would be need- 
less to explain." Mr. Adams did indeed soon 
begin to comprehend these " motives " with 
sufficient accuracy to make explanations almost 
" needless ; " yet for the present he held his 
tongue with such patisnce as he could com- 

This correspondence took place in February, 
1780 ; but it was not till the end of March and 
after further stimulation of de Vergennes' 
careless memory, that Mr. Adams carried his 
point of procuring publication even of the 
"principal object " of his mission. "I ought 
to confess to Congress," he said, with a slight 
irony in the choice of phrases not unworthy of 
the count himself, " that the delicacy of the 
Count de Vergennes about communicating my 
powers is not perfectly consonant to my man- 
lier of thinking ; and if I had followed my own 


judgment, I should have pursued a bolder plan, 
by communicating, immediately after my arri- 
val, to Lord George Germain my full powers to 
treat both of peace and commerce." Yet he 
modestly hopes that Congress will approve his 
deference to the French minister. There was 
little danger that they would not ; it was only 
Mr. Adams's boldness and independence, never 
his submissiveness, which imperilled his good 
standing with that now spiritless body. 

Mr. Adams said of himself with perfect truth, 
that he could not eat the bread of idleness. 
His restless energy always demanded some out- 
let, whereas now he found himself likely to re- 
main for an indefinite time without a duty or 
a task. He was free to enjoy with a clear 
conscience all the novel fascinations of the gay- 
est city of the world, having the public purse 
open to his hand and perfect idleness as his 
only official function for the passing time. 
Such an opportunity would not have been 
thrown away by most men ; but for him the 
pursuit of ease and pleasure, even as a tempo- 
rary recess and with ample excuse, meant 
wretchedness. Without delay he set himself 
to discover some occupation, to find some toil, 
to devise some opening for activity. This he 
soon saw in the utter ignorance of the people 
about him concerning American affairs, and he 


entered upon the work of enlightening them 
by a series of articles, which he prepared and 
caused to be translated and published in a 
prominent newspaper, edited by M. Genet, a 
chief secretary in the foreign office, father of 
Edmond Genet, the famous French minister to 
the United States in Washington's time. This 
well-meant and doubtless useful enterprise, 
however, ultimately brought him into trouble, 
as his zeal was constantly doing throughout bis 
life in ways that always seemed to him grossly 
undeserved and the hardest of luck. For at 
the request of de Vergennes, whose attention 
was attracted by these publications, he now be- 
gan to furnish often to that gentleman a va- 
riety of interesting items of information from 
the states, of which more will soon be heard. 
lie further kept up an active volunteer corre- 
spondence with Congress, sending them all 
sorts of news, facts which he observed and 
heard, conjectures and suggestions from his 
own brain, which he conceived might be of use 
or interest to them. In a word, he did vigor- 
ously many things which might naturally have 
been expected from Franklin, but which that 
tranquil philosopher had not permitted to dis- 
turb his daily ease. 

For a time all went well ; Franklin, secure in 
his great prestige, contemplated with indiffer. 


ence the busy intrusion of Adams ; de Vergennes 
was glad to get all he could from so effusive a 
source, and Congress seemed sufficiently pleased 
with the one-sided correspondence. Yet a cau- 
tious man, worldly-wise and selfish, would never 
have done as Adams was doing, and in due 
time, without any consciousness at all that he 
deserved such retribution, he found himself in 
trouble. Early in 1780, Congress issued a rec- 
ommendation to the several states to arrange 
for the redemption in silver of the continental 
paper money at the rate of forty dollars for 
one. The adoption of this advice by Massa- 
chusetts, and the laying of a tax by that state 
to provide the money for her share, were an- 
nounced to Mr. Adams in a letter of June 16, 
1780, from his brother-in-law, Richard Cranch. 
A copy of this letter he promptly sent to de 
Vergennes. Immediately afterwards he re- 
ceived further news of a resolution of Congress 
to pay the continental loan certificates accord- 
ing to their value in real money at the time of 
their issue. A copy of this letter also he for- 
warded to M. de Vergennes, with a letter of 
his own, explaining, says Mr. C. F. Adams, the 
" distinction between the action of Congress ok 
the paper money and on the loan certificates, 
which that body had neglected to make clear." * 

1 V. Dipt. Con. of the Amer. Rev. 207. 


The letter is brief, and seems fully as much 
deprecatory as explanatory. But whatever was 
its character, it was a mistake. Mr. Adams 
would have done better to allow such disagree- 
able intelligence to reach the count through 
the regular channels of communication. He 
was under no sort of obligation to send the 
news, nor to explain it, nor to enter on any de- 
fense ; indeed, had he held his tongue, it was 
not supposable that the count would ever have 
known when or how fully he had got his infor- 
mation. Moreover, it was in his discretion to 
make such communications to the count as he 
saw fit ; if it was not meddlesome in him to 
make any, at least it was indiscreet in him to 
make these especial ones. His punishment was 
swift. De Vergennes at once took fire on be- 
half of his countrymen, who were numerously 
and largely creditors of the colonies. He wrote 
to Mr, Adams a letter far from pleasant in 
tone. " Such financial measures," he said, 
" might be necessary, but their burden should 
fall on the Americans alone, and an exception 
ought to be made in favor of strangers." 

u In order to make you sensible of the truth of 
this observation, I will only remark, sir, that the 
Americans alone ought to support the expense which 
is occasioned by the defense of their liberty, and that 
they ought to consider the depreciation of their paper 


money only as an impost which ought to fall upon 
themselves, as the paper money was at first estab- 
lished only to relieve them from the necessity of pay- 
ing taxes. I will only add that the French, if they 
are obliged to submit to the reduction proposed by 
Congress, will find themselves victims of their zeal, 
and I may say of the rashness with which they ex- 
posed themselves in furnishing the Americans with 
arms, ammunition, and clothing, and in a word with 
all things of the first necessity, of which the Amer- 
icans at the time stood in need." 

Having delivered this severe and offensive 
criticism, the writer expressed his confidence 
that Mr. Adams would use all his endeavors to' 
engage Congress to do justice to the subjects 
of the king, and further stated that the Cheva- 
lier de la Luzerne, French minister at Philadel- 
phia, had "orders to make the strongest repre- 
sentations on this subject.'' 

Mr. Adams, thus rudely smitten, began im- 
perfectly to appreciate the position into which 
his naive and unreflecting simplicity had 
brought him. He instantly replied, hoping 
that the orders to de la Luzerne might be held 
back until Dr. Franklin could communicate 
with the French government. It was rather 
late to remember that the whole business lay 
properly in Franklin's department, and unfor- 
tunately the tardy gleam of prudence was only 


a passing illumination. Actually under data 
of the same day on which this reply was sent, 
the Diplomatic Correspondence contains a very 
long and elaborate argument, addressed by Mr. 
Adams to de Vergennes, wherein the ever* 
ready diplomats gratuitously endeavored to. 
vindicate the action of Congress. It was a 
difficult task which he so readily assumed ; for 
though, if it is ever honest for a government 
to force creditors to take less than it has prom- 
ised to them, it was justifiable for the colonial 
Congress and the several states to do so at 
this time, yet it is by no means clear that 
such a transaction is ever excusable. More- 
over, apart from this doubt, Mr. Adams w r as 
addressing an argument to a man sure to be 
incensed by it, not open to conviction, and in 
the first Hush of anger. Adams afterwards 
said that he might easily have shunned this 
argument as Franklin did, by sending the 
French minister's letter to Congress, and ex- 
pressing no opinion of his own to de Vergennes. 
But this course he condemned as " duplicity," 
and declared: U I thought it my indispensable 
duty to my country and to Congress, to France 
and the count himself, to be explicit." Mr. 
C. F. Adams also tries to show that his ances- 
tor could not have shunned this effort with- 
Dut compromising himself or his countrymen. 


But it is not possible to take these views. At 
the outset Mr. Adams was at perfect liberty to 
keep silence, and would have been wise to do so. 
The trouble was that keeping silence was some- 
thing he could never do. On the same day he 
wrote to Dr. Franklin a sort of admonitory 
letter, phrased in courteous language certainly, 
but conveying to him information which the 
doctor might well feel piqued at receiving from 
such a source, and intimating that he would do 
well to bestir himself and to mend matters 
without more delay. Shortly after he had thus 
prodded the minister of the states, he wrote 
two letters to Congress, containing a sufficiently 
fair narrative of the facts, but between the 
lines of which one sees, or easily fancies that 
he sees, a nascent uneasiness, a dawning sense 
of having been imprudent. The same is visi- 
ble in another letter to Franklin, dated seven 
days later, in which the now anxious and for a 
moment self-distrustful writer begs the doctor, 
if he is materially wrong in any part of liis 
argument to de Vergennes, to point out the 
error, since he is u open to conviction, " and 
the subject is one " much out of the way of 
[his] particular pursuits," so that he naturally 
may be " inaccurate in some things." The 
next day brought a curt letter from de Ver- 
gennes, embodying a sharp snub. Still a few 


days more brought a letter from Franklin to de 
Vergennes, in which the American said that, 
though he did not yet fully understand the 
whole business, he could at least see that for- 
eigners and especially Frenchmen should not 
be permitted to suffer. He added that the sen- 
timents of the colonists in general, so far as he 
had been able to learn them from private and 
public sources, " differ widely from those that 
seem to be expressed by Mr. Adams in his 
letter to your excellency." Franklin was wrong 
in these assertions, but he was at least politic ; 
he was turning aside wrath, gaining time, mak- 
ing the blow fall by slow degrees. 

So the result of Mr. Adams's well-meant 
blunders was that be had not affected the opin- 
ions of the French minister in the least, but 
that he had secured for himself the ill-will both 
of that powerful diplomatist and of Dr. Frank- 
lin. They both snubbed hi in, and of course 
quickly allowed it to be understood by mem- 
bers of Congress that Mr. Adams was an un- 
welcome busybody. This was in a large degree 
unjust and undeserved, but it was unfortu- 
nately plausible. Mr. Adams could explain in 
self-defense that he had been requested by de 
Vergennes himself to convey information to 
that gentleman directly from time to time on 
A.merican affairs ; and the explanation might 


serve as an excuse for, if not a full justification 
of, his encroachment on the proper functions of 
Dr. Franklin. But a public man is unfortu- 
nately situated when he is so placed that he is 
obliged to explain. It seemed in derogation of 
Mr. Adams's usefulness abroad that, whether 
with or without fault on his own part, he had 
incurred the displeasure of de Vergennes and 
the jealousy of Franklin. Congress indeed 
stood manfully by him ; yet it was impossible 
that his prestige should not be rather weakened 
than strengthened by what had occurred. Al- 
together, his ill-considered readiness had done 
him a serious temporary hurt on this occasion, 
as on so many others, in his outspoken, not to 
say loquacious career. 

The ill feeling between Adams and Franklin 
reached a point which it is painful now to con- 
template, as existing between two men who 
should have been such hearty co-laborers in the 
common cause. That they did not openly quar- 
rel was probably due only to their sense of pro- 
priety and dignity, and to the age and position 
of Dr. Franklin. In fact they were utterly in- 
compatible, both mentally and morally. From 
finding that they could not work in unison the 
step to extreme personal dislike was not a long 
one. In 1811 Mr. Adams put his sentiments 
not only in writing but in print with his usual 


straightforward and unsparing directness. He 
charged that Franklin had " concerted " with 
de Vergennes " to crush Mr. Adams and get 
possession of his commission for peace ; " and 
he stigmatized the conspiracy, not unjustly, if 
his suspicions were correct, as a " vulgar and 
low intrigue," a " base trick." He said that 
when de Vergennes wished to send complaints 
of him to Congress, Franklin, who was not offi- 
cially bound to interfere in the business, became 
a " willing auxiliary ... at the expense of his 
duty and his character." He said that he had 
never believed Dr. Franklin's expressions of 
"reluctance," and that the majority of Con- 
gress had " always seen that it was Dr. F.'s 
heart's desire to avail himself of these means 
and this opportunity to strike Mr. Adams out of 
existence as a public minister, and get himself 
into his place." He denied that he ever inter- 
meddled in Franklin's province, and explained 
his neglect to consult with the doctor on the 
ground that he knew the " extreme indolence 
and dissipation " of that great man. He did 
not confine himself to accusing Franklin of an 
ungenerous enmity to himself, but directly as- 
sailed his morals and the purity of his patriot- 
ism. These bitter pages are not pleasant read- 
ing, however much truth there may be in them. 
In such a misunderstanding, as in a family 


quarrel, it would have been better had each 
party rigorously held his peace. Yet since this 1 
was not done, and the feud has been published 
to the world, it may be fairly said that, except 
in points of discretion at the time, and good 
taste afterward, it is difficult not to sympathize 
with Mr. Adams. He had nine tenths of the 
substance of right on his side. 

For a while just now Mr. Adams resembles 
a ship blundering through a fog bank. Appar- 
ently he had taken leave of all discretion. In- 
credible as it seems, he actually seized this mo- 
ment of Count de Vergennes's extreme irri- 
tation, an irritation of which he himself had 
been made the unfortunate scape-goat, to write 
to that minister a letter urging a vigorous and 
expensive naval enterprise by the French in 
American waters, and suggesting that besides 
its strictly strategic advantages it would have 
the very great moral use of proving the sincer- 
ity of the French in the alliance ! Not that 
he himself, as he graciously said, doubted that 
sincerity, but others were questioning it. 
Nothing could have been more inopportune or 
more unconciliatory than this proposal, made 
at th6 precise moment when conciliation would 
have been the chief point of a sound policy. 
The French treasury was beginning to feel se- 
verely the cost of the war, and however im- 


perfect may have been the sincerity of the gov- 
ernment at other times and in other respects, 
they were now at least doing all they could 
afford to do in the way of substantial military 
assistance. De Vergennes replied with chill- 
ing civility. A few days afterward Mr. Adams 
touched another sensitive spot, renewing his 
old suggestion that it would be well for him to 
communicate to the British court the full char- 
acter of his commissions. In this he was prob- 
ably quite right ; but in urging it upon the 
minister just at this moment he was again im- 
prudent, if not actually wrong. He knew per- 
fectly well that de Vergennes did not wish this 
communication to be made ; it is true also that 
he more than half suspected the concealed mo- 
tives of the minister's reluctance, though he 
did not fully know precisely in what shape the 
ministerial policy was being developed. Still, 
being aware of the unwelcome character of his 
proposal, he ought to have refrained from urg- 
ing it for a little while, until the offense which 
he had so lately given could drop a little fur- 
ther into the past. In those days of tardy com- 
munication diplomatic matters moved so slowly 
that a month more or less would not have 
counted for very much, and certainly he would 
have been likely to lose less by pausing than 
he could hope to gain by pushing forward just 


at this moment. Upon the receipt of the re- 
iterated and unwelcome request, the patience 
and politeness of de Vergennes at last fairly 
broke down. His response was curt, and in 
substance, though not in language, almost inso- 
lent. He sent Mr. Adams a paper setting forth 
categorically his reasons for thinking that the 
time had not come for informing the English 
government concerning the Congressional com- 
missions. He hoped that Mr. Adams would 
see the force of these arguments, but other- 
wise, he said, " I pray you, and in the name of 
the king request you, to communicate your let- 
ter and my answer to the United States, and 
to suspend, until you shall receive orders from 
them, all measures with regard to the English 
ministry." For his own part, he acknowledged, 
that he intended with all expedition to appeal 
to Congress to check the intended communica- 
tion. This was not pleasant ; but the reading 
of the enclosed statement of reasons must have 
been still less so. They were, said the writer, 
" so plain that they must appear at first view." 
After this doubtful compliment to the sagacity 
of Mr. Adams, who had failed to discern con- 
siderations so remarkably obvious, a number 
of snubs followed. Mr. Adams was told that 
" it required no effort of genius " to compre- 
hend that he could not fulfill all his commis* 


sions at once ; that the English ministry would 
regard his communication, so far as related to 
the treaty of commerce, as " ridiculous,'' and 
would return either " no answer " or " an in- 
solent one ; " that Mr. Adams's purpose could 
never be achieved by the means he suggested, 
with the too plain innuendo that his sugges- 
tion was a foolish one. Finally, but not until 
the eighth paragraph had been reached in the 
discussion and disposition of Mr. Adams's 
several points, the Frenchman said, as if re- 
lieved at last to find a break in the chain of ig- 
norance and folly : " This is a sensible reflec- 
tion." There was a sharper satire in this praise 
than in the blame which had preceded it ; and 
the subtle minister then continued to show that 
the " reflection " was " sensible " only because 
it showed that even Mr. Adams himself could 
appreciate and admit that under some circum- 
stances he would do well to withhold the com- 
munication of his powers. 

As a real confutation of Mr. Adams's argu- 
ments, this document was very imperfectly sat- 
isfactory. As a manifestation of ill-temper it 
was more efficient ; for it was cutting and sar- 
castic enough to have irritated a man of a 
milder disposition than Mr. Adams enjoyed. 
On July 26, however, he replied to it in tolera- 
bly submissive form, though not concealing that 


he was rather silenced by the authority than 
Convinced by the arguments of his opponent, 
since an opponent de Vergennes had by this 
time substantially become. But on July 27, 
Mr. Adams was moved to write a second and a 
less wise letter. He had overlooked, he said, 
the count's statement that in the beginning the 
French " king, without having been solicited 
by the Congress, had taken measures the most 
efficacious to sustain the American cause." He 
sought now to prove, and did prove, that this 
was an erroneous assertion, inasmuch as the 
colonists had solicited aid before it had been 
tendered to them. He would have done better 
had he continued to overlook the error, rather 
than be so zealous to prove his countrymen 
beggars of aid, instead of recipients of it un- 
sought. But if this was a trifling matter, on a 
following page he committed a gross and un- 
pardonable folly. " I am so convinced," he 
said, " by experience of the absolute necessity 
of more consultations and communications be- 
tween his majesty's ministers and the minis- 
ters of Congress, that I am determined to omit 
no opportunity of communicating my senti- 
ments to your excellency, upon everything 
that appears to me of importance to the com- 
mon cause, in which I can do it with propri- 
ety." In other words, Dr. Franklin was so 


outrageously neglecting his duties that Mr. 
Adams must volunteer to perform them ; and 
though he was even now in trouble by reason 
of news given to de Vergennes at that gentle- 
man's own request, he actually declares his 
resolution, untaught by experience, to thrust 
further unasked communications before thai 
minister. Some very unfriendly demon must 
have prompted this extraordinary epistolary 
effort ! Two days afterward he received from 
de Vergennes a sharp and well-merited rebuke. 
To avoid the receipt of more letters like Mr. 
Adams's last, the minister now wrote : " I 
think it my duty to inform you that, Mr. Frank- 
lin being the sole person who lias letters of cre- 
dence to the king from the United States, it 
is with him only that I ought and can treat of 
matters which concern them, and particularly 
of that which is the subject of your observa- 
tions." Then the minister mischievously sent 
the whole correspondence to Dr. Franklin, ex- 
pressing the malicious hope that he would for- 
ward it all to Congress, so " that they may 
know the line of conduct which Mr. Adams 
pursues with regard to us, and that they may 
judge whether he is endowed, as Congress no 
doubt desires, with that conciliatory spirit 
which is necessary for the important and deli- 
cate business with which he is entrusted." Iu 


a word, de Vergennes had come to hate Adams, 
and wished to destroy him. Franklin did in 
fact write to Congress a letter in a tone which 
could not have been unsatisfactory to Ver- 
gennes, and the result came back in the shape 
of some mild fault-finding for Mr. Adams in an 
official letter from the President of Congress, 
a censure much more gentle than he might 
well have anticipated in view of the powerful 
influences which he had managed to set in mo- 
tion against himself. Fortunately, too, such 
sting as there was in this was amply cured by 
a vote of December 12, 1780, passed concern- 
ing the correspondence relating to the redemp- 
tion of debts, by which Congress instructed the 
Committee on Foreign Affairs " to inform Mr. 
Adams of the satisfaction which they receive 
from his industrious attention to the interests 
and honor of these United States abroad, es- 
pecially in the transactions communicated to 
them by his letter." 

During these two months of June and July, 
1780, Mr. Adams had certainly succeeded in 
stirring up a very considerable embroilment, 
and in making Paris a rather uncomfortable 
place of residence for himself for the time be- 
ing. It was as well for him to seek some new 
and more tranquil pastures, at least tempora- 
rily. Fortunately he was able to do so with 

190 JOHN ADA^fS. 

a good grace. So early as in February preced- 
ing he bad seen tbat a minister in Holland 
might do good service, especially in opening 
the way for loans of money. He had lately 
been contemplating a volunteer and tentative 
trip thither, and had asked for passports from 
the count de Ver^eunc^ : these he now re- 
ceived, with an intimation, not precisely that 
his absence was better than his company, but at 
least that for a few weeks he might rest assured 
that no negotiations would arise to demand his 
attention. So on July 27 he set out for Am- 
sterdanL This \ [sit, intended to be brief and of 
exploration only, finally ran on through a full 
year, and covered the initiation of some im- 
portant transactions. Mr, Adams's chief mo- 
tive was to try the financial prospects, to see 
what chance there WB8 for the colonies to delve 
into the treasure-chests and deep pockets of the 
rich bankers and money-lenders of the Low 
Countries. He found only a black ignorance 
prevalent concerning the condition and re- 
sources of bis country, and that it was of no 
use to talk of loans until he could substitute for 
this lack of knowledge abundant and favorable 
information. To this end he at once bent him- 
self by industriously employing the press, and 
by seeking to extend his personal acquaintance 
and influence as far as possible in useful direo 


fcions. At first this was another of his purely 
voluntary undertakings, from which he had not 
yet been turned aside; but while he was prose- 
cuting it, direct authority for engaging a Loan 
reached him from Congress. As ill luck would 
have it, however, just at this same crisis the 
English captured some papers disagreeably 
compromising the relations of the Dutch with 
Greal Britain. At once the English ministry 
became very menacing; the Dutch cowered in 
alarm ; and for the time all chance of borrow- 
ing money disappeared. M Not a merchant or 
banker in the place, of any influence," says 
Air. C. F. Adams, "would venture at such a 
moment even to appear to know that a person 
suspected of being an American agent was at 
hand/' Bui after a while the cloud showed 
symptoms of passing over: even a reaction 
against the spirit of timid submission to Eng- 
land began to set in. Air. Adams patiently 
stayed by, watching the turn of affairs, and 
while thus engaged received from Congress two 
new commissions. The one authorized him 
to give in the adhesion of the United States 
to the armed neutrality ; the other appointed 
him minister plenipotentiary to the United 
Provinces, and instructed him to negotiate a 
treaty of alliance as soon as possible. Thus 
he obtained not onlv new incentives but fresh 


points of departure, of which it may be con- 
ceived that he was not slow to avail himself. 
He at once announced to the ministers of vari- 
ous European nations at the Hague his power 
in relation to the armed neutrality: and soon 
afterward presented to the States General a 
memorial requesting to be recognized as min- 
ister from the United States. Jiut this rccoo-- 
nit ion, involving of course the recognition of 
the nation also, was not easily to be obtained. 
Against it worked the fear of Great Britain and 
all the influence of that court, which, though 
at last on the wane, had long been overshadow- 
ing in Holland, and A\as now Btrenuously 
pushed to tin- utmost point in this matter. 
Further, the influence of Prance was unques- 
tionably, though covertly and indirectly, ar- 
rayed upon the same side. No more conclusive 
evidence could have been desired as to the pre- 
lim its of the good will of de Vergennes to 
the American states. Had he had their inter- 
ests nearly at heart he would have had every 
reason to advance this alliance: but having no 
oilier interests save those of France at heart, 
he pursued the contrary course; for it best 
suited a purely French policy to have the colo- 
nies feel exclusively dependent upon France, 
and remain otherwise solitary, unfriended, urn 
supported. It is not fair to blame de Ver« 


gennes for this ; his primary, perhaps his sole 
duties were to his own country. But the fact 
undeniably indicates that he was not the disin- 
terested friend of the colonies which he pro- 
fessed to be, and that he could not wisely be 
trusted in that implicit manner in which he de- 
manded to be trusted by them. He was dis- 
honest, but not to a degree or in a way which 
the diplomatic morality of that day severely con- 
demned. He only pretended to be influenced 
by sentiments which Ik 1 did not really feel, and 
called for a confidence which he had no right 
to. Mr. Adams, however, could not fail to sus- 
pect him, almost to understand him, and to be- 
come more than ever persuaded of the true 
relationship of the French government to the 
United States. He wrote to Jonathan Jackson, 
that the French minister, the Duke de la Vau- 
guyon, doubtless acting upon instructions from 
de Vergennes, " did everything in his power " 
to obstruct the negotiation ; and that it was 
only upon the blunt statement made to him by 
Mr. Adams, that "no advice of his or of the 
Comte de Vergennes, nor even a requisition 
from the king, should restrain me," that he de- 
sisted from his perfidious opposition, and " fell 
in with me, in order to give the air of French 
influence " to the measures. 

Amid these labors in Holland Mr. Adams 



was interrupted by a summons to Paris. There 
were some prospects of a negotiation, which s 
however, speedily vanished and permitted him 
to return. Besides his own endeavors, events 
were working for him very effectually. For 
the time England was like a man with a fight- 
ing mania ; wildly excited, she turned a bellig- 
erent front to any nation upon the slightest 
even imaginary provocation. Utterly reckless 
as to the number of her foes, she now added 
Holland to the array, making a short and hasty 
stride from threats to a declaration of war. 
Mr. Adams could have suggested nothing 
better for his own purposes, had he been al- 
lowed to dictate British policy. Still the game 
was not won ; things moved slowly in Holland, 
where the governmental machine was of very 
cumbrous construction, and any party possessed 
immense facilities in the way of obstruction. 
The stadtholder and his allies, conservatively 
minded, and heretofore well-disposed towards 
England, still remained hostile to Mr. Adams's 
projects ; but a feeling friendly to him and to 
the colonies had rapidly made way among the 
merchants and popular party in politics. This 
was attributable in part to indignation against 
Great Britain, in part to the news of the Ameri- 
can success in the capture of CornwalhYs army, 
and in part to Adams's personal exertions, ea 


pecially in disseminating a knowledge concern- 
ing his country, and sketching probable open- 
ings for trade and financial dealings. At last 
he became convinced that these sentiments of 
good will had acquired such strength and exten- 
sion that a bold measure upon his part would 
be crowned with immediate success. 

With characteristic audacity, therefore, he 
now preferred a formal demand for a categori- 
cal answer to his petition, presented several 
months before, asking that he should be recog- 
nized by the States General as the minister of 
an independent nation. In furtherance of this 
move he made a series of personal visits to the 
representatives of the several cities. It was a 
step, if not altogether unconventional, yet at 
least requiring no small amount of nerve and of 
willingness for personal self-sacrifice ; since, had 
it failed, Adams would inevitably and perhaps 
properly have been condemned for ill-judgment 
and recklessness. This, coming in immediate 
corroboration of the unfriendly criticisms of de 
Vergennes and Franklin, would probably have 
been a greater burden than his reputation could 
have sustained. But as usual his courage was 
ample. The deputies, one and all, replied to 
him that they had as yet no authority to act 
in the premises ; but they would apply to their 
constituents for instructions. They promptly 


did so, and the condition of feeling which Mr. 
Adams had anticipated, and which he had been 
largely instrumental in producing, was mani- 
fested in the responses. The constituencies, in 
rapid succession, declared for the recognition, 
and on April 19, 1782, a year after the pre- 
sentation of the first memorial, it took place. 
Mr. Adams was then formally installed at the 
Hague as the minister of the new people. The 
French minister, the Duke de la Vauguyon, 
having covertly retarded the result so far as he 
well could, but now becoming all courtesy 
and congratulation, gave a grand entertainment 
in honor of the achievement, and presented 
Mr. Adams to the ministers of the Kuropean 
powers as the latest member of their distin- 
guished body. It was a great triumph won 
over grave difficulties. Mr. C. F. Adams says 
concerning it: "This maybe justly regarded, 
not simply as the third moral trial, but what 
Mr. Adams himself always regarded it, as the 
greatest success of his life; " and this is hardly 
exaggeration. Practical advantages immedi- 
ately followed. The Dutch bankers came for- 
ward with' offers to lend money, and some sorely 
needed and very helpful loans were consum- 
mated. Further, on October 7, Mr. Adams 
had the pleasure of setting his hand to a treaty 
of amity and commerce, the second which was 


ratified with his country as a free nation. Con- 
cerning this Dutch achievement he wrote : " No- 
body knows that I do anything ; or have any- 
thing to do. One thing, thank God ! is certain. 
I have planted the American standard at the 
Hague. There let it wave and fly in triumph 
over Sir Joseph Yorke and British pride. I 
shall look down upon the flagstaff with pleas- 
ure from the other world." The Declaration 
of Independence, the Massachusetts Constitu- 
tion, the French alliance had not given him 
" more satisfaction or more pleasing prospects 
for our country" than this ''pledge against 
friends and enemies," this "barrier against all 
dangers from the house of Bourbon," and 
*' present security against England." 




The Revolutionary war was protracted by 
the English in a manner altogether needless 

and wicked. Long after its result was known 
by every one to be inevitable, thai result was 
still postponed at the expense of blood, suffer- 
in-, and money, for do better motives than the 
Belfish pride of the British ministry and the 
dull obstinacy of the English king. Even the 
rules of war condemn a general who sacrifices 
life to prolong a battle when the prolongation 
can bring no possible advantage; but no court- 
martial had jurisdiction over Lord North, and 
impeachment has never been used to punish 
mere barbarity on the part of a cabinet minis- 
ter. Mr. Adams appreciated these facts at the 
time as accurately as if he had been removed 
from the picture by the distance of two or 
three generations. It caused him extreme anc 
perfectly just wrath and indignation. Bitte^ 
explanations of the truth are sprinkled through 


his letters, official and personal, from the time 
of his second arrival in Europe. The hope of 
coming peace had a dangerous influence in re- 
laxing the efforts and lowering the morale of 
the people in the states. He steadily endeav- 
ored to counteract this mischief, and repeated 
to them with emphasis, often passing into anger, 
his conviction that the end was not near at 
hand. He encouraged them, indeed, with oc- 
casional descriptions of the condition of affairs 
in England, which are a little amusing to read 
now. His animosity to the government party 
was intense, and nianv of his anticipations were 
the offspring of his wishes rather than of his 
judgment. The nation Beemed to him on the 
brink of civil war, and to be saved for the time 
from that disaster solely because of the utter 
dearth of leaders sufficiently trustworthy to 
gain the confidence of the discontented people. 
Thus he declared, " it may truly be said, that 
the British empire is crumbling to pieces like 
a rope of sand," so that, if the war should con- 
tinue, " it would not be surprising to see Scot- 
land become discontented with the Union, Asia 
cast off the yoke of dependence, and even the 
West India islands divorce themselves and seek 
the protection of France, of Spain, or even of 
the United States." In a word, throughout 
England " the stubble is so dry, that the small- 


est spark thrown into it may set the whole field 
in a blaze." "His lordship talks about the mis- 
ery of the people in America. Let him look at 
home, and then say where is misery ! where the 
hideous prospect of an internal civil war is 
added to a war with all the world! " 

But all this did not blind him in the least to 
the dogged resolve of king and cabinet to 
fight for a long while yet. The English, he 
says, "have ever made it a part of their politi- 
cal system to hold out to America some false 
hopes of reconciliation and peace, in order to 
slacken our nerves and retard our preparations. 
. . . But serious thoughts of peace upon any 
terms that we cao agree to, I am persuaded 
they never had." He said that he would think 
himself to be wanting in his duty to his coun- 
trymen, if he k - did not warn them against any 
relaxation of their exertions by sea or land, 
from a fond expectation of peace. They will 
deceive themselves if they depend upon it. 
Never, never will the English make peace 
while they have an army in North America." 
u There is nothing further from the thoughts 
of the king of England, his ministers, parlia- 
ment, or nation (for they are now all his), than 
peace upon any terms that America can agree 
to. ... I think I see very clearly that Amer- 
ica must grow up in war. It is a painful pros 


pect, to be sure." But he goes on at some 
length to show that it must and can be encoun- 
tered successfully. "I am so fully convinced 
that peace is a great way off," he again reiter- 
ates, " and that we have more cruelty to en- 
counter than ever, that I ought to be explicit 
to Congress." Thus earnestly and unceasingly 
did he endeavor to make the Americans look 
the worst possibilities of the future fairly in 
the face, appreciate all they had to expect, and 
escape the snare of too sanguine anticipation, 
with its fatal consequence of languor in the 
prosecution of the war. France and Spain, he 
said, cannot desert the states ; self-interest 
binds the trio together in an indissoluble alli- 
ance for the purposes of this struggle. But even 
should these nations abandon America, should 
his country " be deserted by all the world, she 
ought seriously to maintain her resolution to be 
free. She has the means within herself. Her 
greatest misfortune has been that she has never 
yet felt her full strength, nor considered the ex- 
tent of her resources." It was the resolute 
temper of such patriots as Mr. Adams that was 
bringing forward the end more rapidly than 
the prudent ones among them ventured to be- 

If the postponement of that end was wicked 
on the part of the English government, their 


ungracious and shambling approaches to it were 
contemptible and almost ridiculous, their ma- 
noeuvres were very clumsy, their efforts to 
save appearance! in abandoning substantial 
were extremely comical and pitiful. There 
were secret embassies, private and informal 
Overtures made through unknown men, propo- 
sals bo impossible as to be altogether absurd, 
ludicrous efforts to throw dust in the eyes of 
French, Spanish, and American negotiators, 
endeavors to wean the allies from each other, 
to induce France to desert the states, even to 
bribe the states to turn aboui and join England 
in a war against France. There was nothing 
so preposterous or bo hopeless that the poor old 
king in his desperation, and the king's friends 
in their Bervility, would not try for it. nothing 
so base and contemptible that they would not 
stoop to it. and Beek to make others also stoop. 
There was endless shilly-shallying ; there was 
much traveling of emissaries under assumed 
names; infinite skirmishing about the central 
fact of American independence. Itwasnofact, 
tli«- English cabinet said, and it could not be a 
fact until they should admit it; for the present 
they stoutly alleged that it was only a foolish 
mirage ; ye1 all the while they knew perfectly 
Well that it was as irrevocably established as if 
&n American minister had been already received 


by George III. Though they might criminally 
waste a little time in such nonsense, all the 
world saw that they could not hold out much 

Amid his transactions in Holland Mr. Adams 
had been interrupted by a summons from de 
Vergennes to come at once to Paris, and advise 
concerning some pending suggestions. It was 
about the time of Mr. Cumberland's futile 
expedition to Madrid. Immediately after the 
failure of this originally hopeless attempt, 
Russia and Austria endeavored to intervene, 
with so far a temporary appearance of BUCCess 
that some articles were actually proposed. De 
Vergennes had intended from the outset to be 
master in the negotiations whenever they 
should take place, and to this end lie had con- 
ceived it wise to prevent either Spain <»r the 
United States from making demands inconven- 
ient to him or incompatible with his purely 
French purposes. Spain lie must manage and 
cajole as best he could ; but the states he ex- 
pected to handle more cavalierly and imperi- 
ously. He had no notion of letting this crude 
people, this embryotic nationality, impede the 
motions or interfere with the interests of the 
great kingdom of France. So hitherto he had 
quietly attended to all the preliminary and ten* 
tative business which had been going forward, 


without communicating anything of it to Mr. 
Adams. Accordingly now, when affairs had 
come to a point at which that gentleman could 
no longer be utterly ignored, he Buddenly found 
himself called upon to speak and act in the 
middle of transactions of which lie did not know 
the earlier stages. It was much as if a player 
should be ordered to go upon the stage and take 
11 , ' llIrt ' P«^ in the second ad of a play, of which 
1 "' bad not hen allow, -J to Bee or read the first 


X On July 6, 1781, .Mr. Adams appeared in 
Paris and was allowed to know thai the basis 
of negotiation covered three points of interest 
to him : 1. A negotiation for peace between the 
states and Great Britain without any interven- 
tion of Prance, or of those mediators who were 
tn ad in arranging the demands of the Euro- 
pean belligerents. 2. No treaty, however, was 
to be signed, until the quarrels of these Euro- 
pean belligerents Bhould also have been success- 
fully composed B. A truce was to be arranged 
*'"•' one or two yean, during which period 
rything should remain in ttatu quo, for the 
purpose of giving ample time for negotiation. 
This was divulged to him, but he was not told 
of a fourth article, though not less interesting 
to him than these. This was, that when this 
basis should have been acceded to by all the 

Till TREATY OF PEAi 205 

parties, tlw mediation should go forward. The 
difficulty in this apparently simple proposition, 
a difficulty sufficiently greal fco induce de Ver« 
gennes to indulge in the gross ill faith of con- 
cealing it, lay in the stipulation concerning "all 
the parties." Wen- the states a party or were 
they qoI ? Were they a nation, independent 
like the rest, or were they colonies in a condi- 
tion of revolt ? It' tli<-\ constituted a " party " 
they were entitled to be treated 1 i 1< « * the other 
parties, and to accede to and share in the me- 
diation, appearing before the world in all re- 
spects precisely like their comrade nations. 
To this it was foreseen thai England would 
object, ami thai she would iint consent thu 

once to set herself upon terms of equality with 
those whom she still regarded a- rebellious sub- 
jects. Also the states, being present at the 
mediation, might urge in their own behalf mat- 
ters which would cause new snails in a busi- 
ness already unduly complicated, whence might 
arise some interference with the clever ways 
and strictly national purpose of the count. 
These were the reasons why de Vergennes re- 
frained from mentioning this fourth point to 
Mr. Adams. 

But if that astute diplomatist fancied that 
the concealment of this article would carry with 
it the concealment of the vital point which it 


involved, he was in error. Though unversed in 
intrigue, Mr. Adams had not the less a shrewd 
and comprehensive head, and from the first 
article he gathered the necessary suggestion. 
Why should his country be separated from the 
rest and hidden to treat with Great Britain in 
a side closet, as it were, apart from the public 
room in which the European dignitaries were 
conducting their part of the same business? 
Proud, independent, and long ago suspicious of 
the French minister, Mr. Adams not only at 
one- siw this question, but surmised the answer 
to it. Vet since his belief could after all be 
nothing more than a Burmise, which be had to 

grope for in the dark, unaided by knowledge 

which he ought to have received, he framed a 
cautious reply. With professions of modesty, 

he said that it seemed to him that an obvious 

inference from the isolation of the Btates was, 

that their independence was a matter to be set- 
tled between thenselves and Great Britain; 
and lie could not but fear that before the me- 
diators Borne other power, seeking its own ends, 
might come to such an understanding with 
Great Britain as would jeopardize American 
nationality. Therefore he said fairly that he 
did not like the plan. The point was put by 
him clearly and strenuously; subsequently, as 
mil be seen, it proved to be pregnant with 


grave difficulties. But for the moment lie was 
Bayed the necessity of pushing it to a conclu- 
sion by reason of the failure of the whole 
scheme of pacification. Indeed, he was de- 
tained in Paris but a very short time on this 
occasion, and quickly returned to his Dutch ne 
gotiations. He had, however, corroborated the 
notion of Count de Vergennes, that he would 
be an uncomfortable person for that selfish di- 
plomatist to get along with in the coming dis- 

Perfectly convinced of this incompatibility, 
de Vergennes was using all his arts and his in- 
fluence with Congress to relieve himself of the 
anticipated embarrassment. His envoy to the 
states now prosecuted a scri<»us crusade against 
the contumacious New Englander, and met 
with a success which cannot he narrated with- 
out shame. To-day it is so easy to see how 
pertinaciously the French cabinet sought to 
lower the tone of the American Congress, that 
it seems surprising that so man v members could 
at the time have remained blind to endeavors 
apparently perfectly obvious. Even so far back 
as in 1779, the ultimata being then under dis- 
cussion in Congress, and among them being a 
distinct recognition by Great Britain of the 
independence of the states, M. Ge'rard, the 
French minister at Philadelphia, had actually 


suggested, in view of a probable refusal by 
England of this demand, that Geneva and the 
Swiss Cantons had never } r et obtained any 
such formal acknowledgement, and still en- 
joyed " their sovereignty and independence 
only under the guarantee of France ! " The 
suspicion which such language ought to have 
awakened might have found corroboration in 
the hostility to Mr. Adams, the true cause of 
which was often hinted at. Yet so far were 
the Americans from being put upon their guard 
by the conduct of de Vergennes's emissaries, 
and BO far were they from appreciating the true 
meaning of this dislike to Mr. Adams, that they 
made one concession after another before the 
steady and subtle pressure applied by their 
dangerous ally. In March, 1781, de la Luzerne, 
M. Ge'rard's successor, began a scries of efforts 
to bring about the recall of Mr. Adams. In 
this he was fortunately unsuccessful; he was 
going too far. Yet his arts and persistence 
were not without other fruits. In July, 1781, 
he succeeded in obtaining a revocation of the 
powers which had been given to Mr. Adams to 
negotiate a treaty of commerce with England 
so soon as peace should be established, powers 
which, as we have seen, were so obnoxious to 
de Vergennes that he had obstinately insisted 
that they should be kept a close secret. Fur- 


ther, though Congress persisted in retaining 
Mr. Adams, they were induced to join with 
him four coadjutors, the five to act as a joint 
commission in treating for peace. These four 
were Dr. Franklin, minister to France, John 
Jay, minister at Madrid, Laurens, then a pris- 
oner in the Tower of London, and who was re- 
leased in exchange for Lord Comwallifl just in 
time to be present at the closing of the nego- 
tiation, and Jefferson, who did not succeed in 
getting away from the United States. 

There was no objection to this arrangement, 
considered in itself, and without regard to the 
influence by which it had been brought about. 
Indeed, in view of Adams's relations with the 
French court, it was perhaps an act of pru- 
dence. It might possibly be construed as a 
slur on him ; but it had not necessarily that as- 
pect, and he himself received it in a very manly 
and generous spirit, refusing to see in it kk any 
trial at all of spirit and fortitude, 1 ' but prefer- 
ring to regard it as " a comfort." " The meas- 
ure is right," he wrote ; " it is more respect- 
ful to the powers of Europe concerned, and 
more likely to give satisfaction in America." 
Unfortunately, however, worse remained be- 
hind. Not content with removing all ultimata 
except the fundamental one of the recognition 

of American independence — a recession, of 


which the foolish and gratuitous pusillanimity 
was made painfully apparent by the subse- 
quent progress and result of the negotiations — 
Congress now actually transmuted its five in- 
dependent representatives, the commissioners, 
into mere puppets of M. de Vergennes. That 
effete body, at the express request and almost 
accepting the rery rerbal dictation of de la 
Luzerne, now instructed their peace commis- 
sioners "to make the most candid and confi- 
(I, ' ,ltlal communications upon all subjects to 
the ministers of our generous ally, the King of 
France; to undertake nothing in the negotia- 
tions for peace or truce without their knowl- 
ed « eor concurrence," and « ultimately to gov- 
ern themselves by their advice and '..pinion." 
At last bottom was indeed reached; no lower 
(1, 'f )th o£ humiliation existed below this, where 
the shrewd and resolute diplomacy of de Ver- 
gennes had succeeded in placing the dear allies 
of his country, the protSgS 9% now properly so 
called, of the kind French monarch. 

The American commissioners abroad took 
these Instructions in different and characteristic 
ways. Dr. Franklin received fchem in his usual 
1,1;m ' 1 «»d easy fashion; he was on the besi 
of terms with de Vergennes; he certainly had 
not pride among his failings, and he gave no 
Bign of displeasure. Mr. Adams's hot and 


proud temper blazed up amid his absorbing oc- 
cupations in Holland, and he was for a moment 
impelled to throw up his position at once ; but 
he soon fell back beneath the control of his 
better reason, his patriotism, and that admira- 
ble independent self-confidence, his peculiar 
trait, which led him so often to undertake and 
accomplish very difficult tasks on his own re- 
sponsibility. He wisely and honorably con- 
cluded to stand by his post and <!<> his best for 
his country, without too much reaped for her 
demands. Mr. Jay w;is hurt, and felt himself 
subjected to an unworthy indignity, altogether 
against his nice sense of right. He had already 
seen that France was covertly Leagued with 
Spain to prevent the granting of the American 
request for the privilege of navigating the Mis- 
sissippi through Spanish territory. He under- 
stood the dangerous character of the new Amer- 
ican position, and saw that he was so hampered 
that he could not do his countrymen justice. 
He would play no part in such a game; and 
wrote home, not resigning, but requesting that a 
successor might be appointed. Events, however, 
marched at last with such speed that this re- 
quest never was, or well could be granted. 

At last peace was really at hand. The un- 
mistakable harbingers were to be seen in 
every quarter. The French cabinet, having 



gained a controlling influence over the Aroeri. 
can negotiation, now thought it time to under- 
take the further task of bringing these confid- 
ing friends into a yielding and convenient 
mood, forewarning them that they must not 
expect much. They were told that the French 
king took their submission graciously and would 
do his best for them, of course; but if he should 

'""' ; "" r " r every state all they wished 

""'■ v >"" sl :l!,lil the sacrifice he might be 

compelled to make of bis inclinations to the 
tyrannic rule of necessity." Then came refer- 
es to "the other powers at war," reminding 
""-•"' the way in which Mr. Spenlow kept Mr! 
Jorkins darklj suspended over David Copper- 

field's head; nor, indeed, could deny,asjan 

abstract proposition, that, "if Prance should 

" """ hostilities merely on account of \,„cr 

" :| - after reasonable terms were offered, it was 
impossible to saj wha< the event might be " 
""• "'"'■ meaning of such paragraphs had to 
be aoughl between the lines. The American 
negotiators had peculiar perils before them 
and more to dread from their allies than from 
their f< 

England meanwhile was also in her bungling 
fashion really getting ready for peace. With 
grimaces and writhings, indicating her reluc- 
tance, lier suffering, and her humiliation, and 



so not altogether ungrateful in t lie eyes of the 
Americans, who wen- in some measure com- 
pensated for her backwardness by beholding 
its cause, the mother-country at last prepared 
to let the colonics go. The year llXJ. opened 
with the ministry of Lord North tottering to 
its fall. Genera] Conway moved an address 
to the king, praying for peace. Tin- majority 
against this motion was of one vote only. Lord 
North resigned ; the whigs, under the Marquis 
of Rockingham, came in. Even while the cab- 
inet was in a transition state, the first Berious 
move was made. Mr. Digges, an emissary 
without official character, was dispatched to 
ask whether t he American commissioner had 
power to conclude as well as to negotiate. His 
errand was to Mr. Adams, and Mr. C. F. 
Adams conceives that his real object was to 
discover whether the Americans would not 
make a separate peace or trace without regard 
to France. Nothing came of this. But when 
the new ministry was fairly installed, with 
Fox at the head of the department of foreign 
affairs and Lord Shelburne in charge of the 
colonies, Dr. Franklin wrote privately to Shel- 
burne, expressing a hope that a peace might 
now be arranged. In reply Shelburne sent Mr. 
Richard Oswald, "a pacifical man," to Paris 
to sound the doctor. But Oswald, though 


coming from the colonial department, was so 
thoughtless as to talk with de Vergennes con- 
cerning a general negotiation. Fox, finding 
his province thus invaded, sent over his own 
agent, Thomas Grenville, to de Vergennes. A 
graver question than one of etiquette or even 
of official jealousy, underlay this misunder- 
standing, the question whether the states were 
to be treated with as colonies or as an inde- 
pendent power, the Bame about which Adams 
had already expressed his views to de Ver- 
gennes. Fox and Shelburne quarreled over it 
in the first instance in the cabinet. Fox was 
out-voted, and announced thai he would retire 
with his followers. At the same critical mo- 
ment Lord Rockingham died ; and then Fox 
and Shelburne further disputed as to who 
Bhould till his place. Shelburne carried the 
day. unfortunately, as it seemed, for the peace 
party. For Shelburne was resolved to regard 
the states as -till colonies, who mighl indeed 
acquire independence by and through the 
treaty, but who did not yet possess that dis- 
tinction. He ;it once recalled Grenville and 
gave Mr. Oswald a commission to treat. But 
this commission was carefully bo worded as 
not to recognize, even by implication, the in- 
dependence or the nationality of the states. 
It authorized Oswald only to treat with " any 


commissioner or commissioners, named or to 
be named by the thirteen colonics 01 planta- 
tions in North America, and any body or bod- 
ies, corporate or politic, or any assembly or as- 
semblies, or description of men, or any person 
or persona whatsoever, a peace or trace with 
the said colonies or plantations, or any part 
thereof." In such a petty temper did the no- 
ble Lord approach this negotiation, and by this 
silly and unusual farrago of words endeavor to 
save a dignity wli'n h, wounded by facts, could 
hardly be plastered over by phrases. 

But if for the English this was mere matter 
of pride in a point of detail, it wore a different 

aspect to an American. Mr. Jay had no notion 

of accepting for his country the character of 
revolted colonies, whose independence was to 
be granted by an article in a treaty with Great 
Britain, and was therefore contingent for the 

present, and non-existent until the grant should 
take place. Suppose, indeed, that after such an 
admission the treaty should never be consum- 
mated ; in what a position would the states be 
left! They were, and long had been and had 
asserted themselves to be, a free nation, hav- 
ing a government which had sent and received 
foreign ministers. This character was to be ac- 
knowledged on all sides at the outset, and they 
would transact business on no other basis. In- 

216 JOHN ADA.}fS. 

dependence and nationality could not come to 
them as a concession or gift from Great Britain, 
having been long since taken and held by their 
own strength in her despite. Assurances were 
offered thai the bdependence should f course 
be recognized by an article of the treaty; but 
neither would this do. In this position Jay 
found no support where he had a right to ex- 
pect it. Dr. Franklin, with more of worldly 
wisdom than of sensitive -pi lit. took little in- 
u ' ]( '^ { in this point ; declaring that, provided 
independence became an admitted tact, he cared 
not inv the manner of its becoming so. De 
Vergennes said that the commission was am- 
ply sufficient ; and even covertly intimated this 
opinion to the British ministry. But from Mr. 
Adams in Holland Mr. Jay received encourag- 
ing letters, thoroughly corroborating his opin- 
ions and sustaining him fully and cheerfully. 
OnlyMr^Adams suggested that a commission 
to treat with the United States of America, in 
the same form in which such documents ran as 
towards any other country, would seem to him 
satisfactory. \ formal statement from the 
British could be waived. The admission might 
come more easily than an explicit declaration. 
This suggestion gave Lord Shelbume a chance 
to recede, of which he availed himself. Mr. 
Oswald was authorized to treat with the com- 


missioners of the United States of America; 
and the point was ni last reached at which the 
task of negotiation could be fairly entered upon. 
The Americans at once put forward their 
claims in brief and simple fashion ; these in- 
volved questions of boundary, the navigation 
of the Mississippi, so far as England could deal 
witli it, and the enjoyment of fche northeastern 
fisheries. The English court began, of course, 
by refusal and objection, and de Vergennes was 
really upon their side in the controversy. The 
territory demanded by the I nited States seemed 
to him unreasonably extensive; the navigation 
of the Mississippi nearly co ncern ed Spain, who 
did not wish the states to establish any claim 
to it; and he was anxious for his own purposes 
to do Spain a good turn in this particular; 
while as for the fisheries, he intended thai thej 
should be shared between England and France. 
Further than this, the English demanded that 
the states should reimburse all tories and loy- 
alists in America for their losses in the war: 
and de Vergennes said that this requirement, 
which the American commissioners scouted, 
was no more than a proper concession to Eng- 
land. Matters standing thus, Franklin and 
Jay had to fight their diplomatic battle as best 
they could, certainly without that valuable aid 
and potent, generous assistance from the French 


court of which Congress had been so sanguine. 
Fortunately Mr. Oswald, the " pacifical man," 
was heartily anxious to bring about a success- 
ful conclusion. But he had not full powers to 
grant all that the Americans desired, and in 
his frequent communications to the cabinet his 
good-nature became so apparent that it was 
deemed best to dispatch ;i coadjutor of a dif- 
ferent temper. Accordingly Mr. Strachey ap- 
peared in Paris as the exponent of English ar- 
rogance, insolence, and general offensiveness. 

This new move boded ill; but as good luck 
would have it, just at this juncture Mr. Jay 
also received a no less effective reinforcement 
Mr. Adams, having got through with his busi- 
ness in Holland, arrived in Paris on October 
26. He at once had a Ion- interview with Mr. 
Jay. received full information of all that had 
passed, and declared himself in perfect accord 
with all the positions assumed by that gentle- 
man. The two Jell immediately into entire har- 
mony,and with the happiest results. For a vi- 
tal question was impending. Matters had just 
reached the stage at which the final terms of the 
treaty were to be discussed with a view to an 
actual conclusion. The instructions of the com- 
missioners, it will be remembered, compelled 
them to keep in close and candid communica- 
tion with de Vergennes, and to be guided and 


governed by his good counsel. Yet two of the 
three commissioners present thoroughly dis- 
trusted him, 1 and were assured that obedience 
to these instructions would cost their country a 
very high price. Should they, then, disobey? 
Franklin had said, no. Jay had said, yes. 
Adams, now coming into the business, promptly 
gave the casting vote on Jay's side. There- 
upon Franklin yielded. It was a bold step. An 
immense responsibility was assumed ; a great 
risk, at once national and personal, was ven- 
tured. Men have been impeached and con- 
demned upon less weighty matters and more 
venial charges. But the^conimissioners had the 
moral courage which is so often born out of the 
grandeur of momentous events. Henceforth 
they went on in the negotiation without once 
asking advice or countenance from de Ver- 
gennes ; without even officially informing him 

1 About this time Mr. Adams gave to Jonathan Jackson 
this true and pungent summary of the French policy : " In 
substance it has been this : in assistance afforded us in naval 
force and in money to keep us from succumbing, and nothing 
more ; to prevent us from ridding ourselves wholly of our 
enemies ; to prevent us from growing powerful or rich ; to 
prevent us from obtaining acknowledgments of our independ- 
ence by other foreign powers, and to prevent us from obtain- 
ing consideration in Europe, or any advantage in the peace 
but what is expressly stipulated in the treaty ; to deprive us 
of the grand fishery, the Mississippi river, the western lands, 
and to saddle us with the tories." 


of their progress, though Mr. Adams gave him 
private news very regularly. If he offered 
them no aid under the circumstances, he can 
hardly be blamed ; but such few criticisms or 
hints as he did throw out were by no means 
upon their side in the discussions. 

Considering that the recognition of independ- 
ence was the only ultimatum which the Amer- 
icans were ordered to insist upon, they certainly 
made a wonderfully good bargain. They did 
very well in the way of boundaries ; they got all 
that the English could grant concerning navi- 
gation of the Mississippi ; the English claim 
to compensation for loyalists they cut down to 
a stipulation, which they frankly said would 
be of no value, that Congress should use its in- 
fluence with the states to prevent any legal im- 
pediment being placed in the way of the col- 
lection of debts. This was the suggestion of 
Mr. Adams. But the question of the fisheries 
caused their chief difficulty; it seemed as 
though the Americans must make a concession 
here, or else break off the negotiation alto- 
gether. Mr. Strachey went to London to see 
precisely what the cabinet would do, but at 
the same time left behind him the distinct in- 
timation that he had no idea that the min- 
istry would meet the American demands. 
Mr. Vaughan, distrusting the influence which 


Strachey might exert, set off immediately 
after him in order to counteract his contumacy. 
The ministry had, however, already decided, 
and directed its envoys to insist to the last 
point, but ultimately to yield rather than jeop- 
ardize the pacification. Thus instructed, they 
came to a final session. The question of the 
fisheries came up at once; the Americans ap- 
peared resolute, and for a while matters did not 
promise well ; but soon the Englishmen began 
to weaken; they said that at least they would 
like to substitute the word " liberty " in place 
of the less agreeable word "right." r>ut Mr. 
Adams thereupon arose and with much warmth 
and ardor delivered himself of an eloquent ex- 
position of his views. A "right" it was, he 
said, and a "right" it should be called. lie 
even went so far as to say that the conciliation 
hung upon the point which he urged. The 
fervor of his manner, which in moments of ex- 
citement was always impressive, lending an air 
of earnest and intense conviction to his words, 
satisfied the Englishmen that they must avail 
themselves of all the latitude of concession 
which had been allowed to them. They 
yielded ; and a " right " in the fisheries became 
and has ever since remained a part of the na- 
tional property. They had to yield once more, 
as has been stated, on the question of compen- 


sation to tories, and then the bargain was finally 
struck, substantially upon the American basis. 
The agreement was signed, and the conclu- 
sion was reported to de Vergennes. At first 
he took the announcement tranquilly enough ; 
he had been pushing forward his own negotia- 
tions with England for some time very smoothly, 
and had been satisfied to have the Americans 
take care of themselves and keep out of his 
way. But in the course of a fortnight after 
the American conclusion the aspect of affairs 
changed ; obstacles appeared in the way ; he 
became alarmed lest England should do, what 
it seems that the king and some of his advisers 
probably would have liked very well to do, 
viz., not only patch up a conciliation with the 
states, but persuade them into a union with 
Great Britain against France. Thereupon he 
began to inveigh loudly against the bad faith 
of the Americans, and to employ his usual tac- 
tics at Philadelphia to have them discredited, 
and their acts repudiated by Congress. The 
states, as he truly said, had bound themselves to 
make no separate treaty or peace with England, 
until France and England should also come to 
terms of final agreement ; and now they had 
broken this compact. But the commissioners 
defended themselves upon the facts altogether 
satisfactorily. They had made no treaty at 


all ; they had only agreed that, whenever the 
treaty between France and England should be 
signed, then a treaty between the United States 
and England should also be signed, and the 
exact tenor of this latter treaty had been agreed 
upon. This had been done formally in writing, 
over signatures, only because the English min- 
istry had agreed to stand by such a bargain as 
Mr. Oswald should sign, and any less formal ar- 
rangement might be repudiated without actual 
bad faith. They had taken care at the outset 
expressly to provide, that the whole business 
was strictly preparatory, and could become 
definitive only when England and France 
should ratify their treaty. It is instructive to 
see that neither the French nor the English 
ministers felt at all sure that the Americans 
were honest in this stipulation. From the 
English side they were approached with hints 
reaching at least to a conclusive pacification 
and treaty, if not even to an alliance with 
Great Britain; on the French side they were 
assailed, because it was supposed that they 
might very probably cherish precisely these de- 
signs. But these American gentlemen, self- 
made men representing a self-made nation, and 
uneducated in the aristocratic morals of diplo- 
macy, astonished the high-bred scions of nobil- 
ity with whom they were dealing by behaving 


with strict integrity, by actually telling the 
truth and standing to their word. When de 
Vergennes and Shelburne had mastered this 
novel idea of honesty, they went on with their 
negotiations, and brought them to a successful 
issue. Preliminaries were signed by" the con- 
tending European powers on January 21, 1783 ; 
but it was not until September 3 that the defini- 
tive treaties were all in shape for simultaneous 
execution ; on that day the American commis- 
sioners had the pleasure of setting their hands 
to the most important treaty that the United 
States ever has made or is likely ever to make. 
The pride and pleasure which Mr. Jay, Mr. 
Adams, and, chiefly by procuration, it must be 
said, Dr. Franklin also, were entitled to feel at 
this consummation had been slightly dashed by 
the receipt of a lei lei- embodying something 
very like a rebuke from Robert R. Livingston, 
who was now in charge of the foreign affairs 
of the United States. Alarmed by the expres- 
sions of indignation which came to him from 
the Count de Vergennes, that gentleman wrote 
to the envoys, not so much praising them for 
having done better than they had been bidden, 
as blaming them for having done so well with- 
out French assistance. The past could not be 
undone, most fortunately ; but Mr. Living- 
ston now wished to apologize, and to propitiate 


de Vergermes by informing him of a secret ar- 
ticle whereby the southern boundary was made 
contingent upon the result of the European ne- 
gotiations. The commissioners were naturally 
incensed at this treatment so precisely opposite 
to what they had handsomely merited, and an 
elaborate reply was prepared by Mr. Jay, and 
inserted in their letter-book. But it was never 
sent ; it was superfluous. As between Congress 
and the commissioners, it was the former body 
that was placed upon the defensive, and a very 
difficult defensive too. The less said about the 
instructions and the deviations from them the 
better it was for the members of that over- 
timid and blundering legislature. All the 
honor, praise, and gratitude which the Ameri- 
can people had to bestow belonged solely to the 
commissioners, and few persons were long so 
dull or so prejudiced as not to acknowledge this 
truth, and to give the honor where the honor 
was due. Yet it was a long while before Mr. 
Adams's sense of indignation wore away; he 
said, with excusable acerbity, " that an attack 
had been made on him by the Count de Ver- 
gennes, and Congress had been induced to dis- 
grace him ; that he would not bear this dis- 
grace if he could help it," etc. A few days 
later he wrote : — 

" I am weary, disgusted, affronted, and disap- 


pointed. ... I have been injured, and my country 
has joined in the injury; it has basely prostituted its 
own honor by sacrificing mine. But the sacrifice of 
me was not so servile and intolerable as putting us 
all under guardianship. Congress surrendered their 
own sovereignty into the hands of a French minis- 
ter. Blush ! blush ! ye guilty records ! blush and 
perish ! It is glory to have broken such infamous 
orders. Infamous, I say, for so they will be to all 
posterity. How can such a stain be washed out ? 
Can we cast a veil over it and forget it ? " 

Severe words these, painful and humiliating 
to read : but perfectly true. Congress, which 
well merited the lash of bitter rebuke, laid it 
cruelly upon Adams and Jay, who deserved it 
not at all. But Mr. Adams, even amid the 
utterances of his bitter resentment, manfully 
said: "This state of mind I must alter, and 
work while the day lasts." Of such sound 
quality did the substratum of his character 
always prove to be, whenever events forced 
their way down to it through the thin upper 
crusts of egotism and rashness. 

The negotiations at the Hague and in Paris, 
though they take a short time in the telling, 
had been protracted and tedious ; long before 
they were completed the novelty of European 
life had worn off, and Mr. Adams was thor- 
oughly, even pitifully homesick. So soon as 


an agreement had been reached and the execu- 
tion of a definitive treaty substantially assured, 
on December 4, 1782, he sent in his resi gna tion 
of all his foreign employm ents, and wrote to 
his wife with much positiveness and a sort of 
joyful triumph, that he should now soon be on 
the way home, u in the spring or beginning of 
summer." If the acceptance of his resignation 
should not " arrive in a reasonable time," he 
declared that he would "come home without 
it." But by May, 1783, he had to say that lie 
could not see " a possibility of embarking be- 
fore September or October;" and most heart- 
ily he added that he was in the M most disgust- 
ing and provoking situation imaginable ; * he 
was so sincerely anxious to get back that he 
would rather be "carting street dust and marsh 
mud" than be waiting as he was. These reit- 
erations of his longing, his resolve to return, 
his expressions of pleasure in the anticipation, 
of vexation at the repeated delays, are really 
pathetic. Events, however, were too strong for 
him ; the business already in hand moved in 
crab-like fashion ; in June he began to talk 
about the following spring ; then new duties 
came in sight faster than old ones could be 
dispatched. For in September, 1783, he had 
the mingled honor and disappointment of being 
commissioned, in conjunction with Dr. Frank- 


lin and Mr. Jay, to negotiate a treaty of com- 
merce with Great Britain. Such a commercial 
alliance was a matter wdiich he had long had 
near at heart, as being of the first importance 
to the states ; the revocation of his previous 
commission had profoundly annoyed him at the 
time, and had never since ceased to rankle in 
his memory ; he had opinions and hopes as to 
the future relationship of the two countries, to 
be carried out through the ways of commerce, 
which he had thought out with infinite care 
and which he felt that he could do much to 
promote. In a word, the opportunity was a 
duty, and he must stay abroad for it. Reluc- 
tantly he reached the conclusion, which was, 
however, obviously inevitable. But he made 
the best possible compromise ; he wrote to his 
wife urging her to come out with their daugh- 
ter to join him, indeed scarcely leaving her the 
option to say no, had she been so minded. 

By the autumn, instead of being on the 
ocean, as he had hoped, he was on a sick-bed. 
His constitution seems to have been a peculiar 
mixture of strength and weakness. He lived 
an active, hard-working life, and survived to a 
goodly old age ; the likenesses of him show us 
a sturdy and ruddy man, too stout for symme- 
try, but looking as though the rotund habit 
Were the result of a superabundant vigor of 


physique ; lie went through a great amount of 
open air exposure and even hardship, such for 
example as his horseback trips between Boston 
and Philadelphia, his stormy passages across 
the Atlantic, his long, hard journey from F( r- 
rol to Paris, and many lesser expeditions. 
These broke at intervals the unwholesome in- 
door life of the civilian, and, since he bore 
them well, ought to have added to his robust- 
ness. Yet he constantly complains of his 
health, and at times becomes quite low-spirited 
about it. That he was not hypochondriacal is 
sufficiently proved by the attacks of grave ill- 
ness which he had in the prime of life. Two 
years before the present time he had Buffered 
from a fever in Holland. Now again, in this 
autumn of 1783, he was prostrated by another 
fever of great severity. lie was cared for in 
Paris by Sir James Jay, who brought him 
through it ; but he was left much debilitated, 
and had to endure the tedium of a long conva- 
lescence. Most of this period he passed in 
London, seeing as much as he well could of the 
capital city of that " mother-country " whose 
galling yoke he had done so much to break. He 
had the rare fortune during this visit, says his 
grandson, " to witness the confession, made to 
his Parliament and people by George the Third 
himself, that he had made a treaty of peace 


with the colonies no longer, but now the inde- 
pendent states of North America." He was far 
from fully restored to vigorous health when he 
received an unwelcome summons to Amster- 
dam, to arrange for meeting " the immense 
flock of new bills," which the states were draw- 
ing on the Dutch bankers with happy prodigal- 
ity and a perfect recklessness as to the chance 
or means of payment. A stormy winter voy- 
age, involving extraordinary and prolonged ex- 
posure, was endured more successfully than 
could have been hoped by the invalid. Not 
less trying, in a different way, was the task 
which he had to perform upon his arrival, of 
borrowing more money upon the hard terms 
made by unwilling lenders with a borrower 
bearing, to speak plainly, a very disreputable 
character in the financial world. But he 
achieved a success beyond explanation, except 
upon the principle that the banking houses 
were already so deeply engaged for America 
that they could not permit her to become in- 

Meantime Congress sent out a commission 
empowering Mr. Adams, Dr. Franklin, and Mr. 
Jefferson to negotiate treaties of commerce 
with any foreign powers which should be will 
ing to form such connections. The Prussian 
cabinet had already been in communication 


with Adams on the subject, and a new field of 
labor was thus opened before him. Fortu- 
nately, about this time, in the summer of 1784, 
his wife and daughter arrived; he began house- 
keeping at Auteuil, close by Paris ; and the 
recstablishment of a domestic circle, with occu- 
pation sufficiently useful and not too laborious, 
reconciled him to a longer exile. He had sev- 
eral months of a kind of comfort and happiness 
to which he had long been a stranger, yet upon 
which he placed a very high value, for he was 
a man naturally of domestic tastes and strong 
family affections. 

But Congress prepared another interruption 
for him, by appointing him, February 24, 1785, 
minister to Great Britain. The position could 
be looked at from more than one point of view. 
In the picturesque aspect, it was striking and 
impressive to appear as the first accredited en- 
voy in the court of that venerable and noble 
nation of which his newly-created country had 
so lately been only a subject part. As the 
Count de Vergennes said to him, " It is a mark." 
It was indeed a " mark," and a very proud one, 
and the responsibility imposed upon the man 
appointed to set that mark before the world 
was very grave. Mr. Adams was so constituted 
as to feel this burden fully ; but he was also 
so constituted as to bear it well. There was 


about him very much of the grandeur of sim- 
plicity, a grandeur which, it must be confessed, 
scarcely survived the eighteenth century, and 
has belonged only to the earliest generation of 
our statesmen. He had natural dignity, self- 
respect, and independence. and he copied no 
forms of social development alien to the train- 
ing of his youth. Thai youth had been pro- 
vincial, but by no means of that semi-barbarous 
and backwoods character that was afterwards 
prevalent in the country. Colonial Boston was 
a civilized community, wherein a liberal educa- 
tion was to be had, some broad views to be 
acquired, and honorable ambitions nourished. 
One could hum there, it not much of the tech- 
nical polish of aristocratic society, at least a 
gentlemanly bearing and plain good manners. 

John Adams had the good sense nol to seek to 
exchange these qualities for thai peculiar finish 
of high European society, which certainly he 
could never have acquired. Thus in the mere 
matter of "making an appearance " he was a 
well-selected representative of the states. Nor 
was this so petty a point of view as it might 
in. Much of real importance could be af- 
fected by the demeanor and personal impres- 
sion made by the American minister. " You 
will be stared at a great deal," said the Duke 
of Dorset, preparing Mr. Adams for that pe* 


culiar insolence which Englishmen have car- 
ried to a point unknown in any other age or 
among any other people. " I fear they will 
gaze with evil eyes," .said Mr. Adams ; the 
Duke assured him, with more of civility than 
prophecy, that Ik 1 , believed they would not. 
Mrs. Adams perhaps felt this much more keenly 
than her husband. She w;is made very anx- 
ious by the thought that she had the social 
repute of her country women to answer for. 

Fortunately the presentation of Mr. Adams 
to the king was private. The American after- 
ward frankly acknowledged that he felt and 
displayed some aervousness in his address. lie 
would have been utterly devoid of imagination 
and emotion, almost, one might say. of intelli- 
gence, had he not done so, and his manifesta- 
tion of excitement is more than pardonable. 
He had the good fortune, however, to make a 
remark, which lias taken its place among the 
famous sayings of history. The monarch inti- 
mated that he was not unaware of Mr. Adams's 
feelings of imperfect confidence, at least, to- 
wards the French ministry, and so expressed 
this as to put Mr. Adams in a position of some 
delicacy and possible embarrassment. The re- 
ply had the happy readiness of an inspiration. 
The ambassador said a few words, kC apparently," 
says Mr. C. F. Adams, " falling in with the 


sense of the king's language ; " but he closed 
with the sentence : " I must avow to your maj- 
esty that I have no attachment but to my own 
country." George III. had the good sense and 
sound feeling to be perfectly pleased with a 
statement so manly and independent, in spite 
of certain disagreeable reflections which might 
easily have been aroused by it, and though it 
was something nearer to a correction than is 
often administered to a royal personage. 

But if at this interview George III. behaved 
like a gentleman of liberal mind, he was not 
equal to the stress of long continuing such 
behavior. He afterward habitually treated 
Mr. Adams with marked coldness, he publicly 
turned his back upon that gentleman and Mr. 
Jefferson, and he thus set an example which 
was promptly and heartily followed by the 
whole court circle, with only a few individual 
exceptions. This, of course, made Mr. Adams's 
stay in London far from comfortable. Occupy- 
ing a position necessarily stimulating all the 
sensitiveness of his proud nature, living in a 
strange land lately hostile and still unfriendly, 
rebuffed in nearly every society by frigid inso- 
lence, he maintained as much retirement as 
was possible. Yet he found some little conso- 
lation and moral aid in noting u an awkward 
timidity in general." " This people," he re- 


marked, " cannot look me in the face ; there is 
conscious guilt and shame in their countenances 
when they look at me. They feel that they 
have behaved ill, and that I am sensible of it." 
Moreover his salary, which had lately been very 
inopportunely reduced, was too narrow to en- 
able him to keep up a style of living like that 
of other foreign ministers, and it would have 
been folly to pretend that, under the peculiar 
circumstances, this was not a little humiliating. 
"Some years hence," said his wife, "it may 
be a pleasure to reside here in the character 
of American minister, but with the present sal- 
ary and the present temper of the English no 
one need envy the embassy." No amount of 
sound sense or just and spirited reasoning could 
argue down a sense of irritation at being 
obliged to make a poverty-stricken showing be- 
fore the critical, malicious, and hostile eyes of 
persons of real ability and distinction, yet who, 
having been bred amid pomp and circumstance, 
gravely regarded these as matters of profound- 
est substance. But all this might have been 
tranquilly endured, had not vastly greater mor- 
tifications been chargeable to his own country. 
He was in duty bound to press for a fulfill- 
ment of the terms of the treaty of peace on the 
part of Great Britain ; but so soon as the first 
words dropped from his mouth, he was met with 


the query, why his own country did not per- 
form her part in this reciprocal contract. The 
only reply was, that she could not ; that the 
government was too feeble ; that it was hardly 
a government at all. Then the Englishmen 
retorted with insolent truth, that in dealing 
with such a nickering existence they must 
keep hold of some security . In a word, Adams 
it presented a congress of states, in no proper 
sense of the word a nation, divided among 
themselves, almost insolvent, unable to per- 
form their agreements, irresponsible, apparently 
falling asunder into political chaos and finan- 
cial ruin. On every side the finger of scorn 
and contempl was pointed at these feeble crea- 
tures, who had tried to join in the stately march 
of the nations before they could so much as 
Btand up for ever so short a time on their own 
legs. To all tin 1 reproaches and insults, bred 
of this pitiable display, there could be no re- 
ply save in the unsatisfactory way of prophe- 
cies. Altogether, there was no denying the 
truth, that this English residence was very 
disagreeable. Mr. Adams's courage and inde- 
pendence were never put to a severer test ; 
and though he presented a very fine spectacle, 
admirable before sensible men then and before 
posterity afterward, yet he himself could get 
scant comfort. 


Neither had he the compensating pleasure of 
feeling that he was accomplishing any service 
of real value for his country. Even before 
peace had been actually concluded he had tried 
to impress upon such Englishmen as he had 
fallen in with, the points of what he regarded 
as a wise policy to be }>u i 'sued bj Great Britain 
towards the states. lie had given deep and 
careful reflection to the future relationship of 
the two countries, which he felt to be of mo- 
mentous concern to both. He had reached firm 
convictions upon tin; subject, which lie urged 
with extreme warmth and earnestness when- 
ever opportunity offered, sometimes indeed in 
his eager way making opportunities which 
more diplomatically-minded men would have 
thought it best not to seize. His views were 
never brought to the test of trial, and of course 
never received the seal of Buccess. Yet it 
seems credible that they did not less honor to 
his head than they certainly did to his heart. 
He hoped to see England accept the new situ- 
ation in a frank and not unkindly spirit. 
Friendship between the two countries seemed 
to him not only possible but natural ; more es- 
pecially since friendship appeared likely to 
promote the material prosperity of each. As 
mercantile communities they might be ex- 
pected to see and to value the probable results 


of a good understanding. Each might forget 
the past, England condoning a successful re- 
bellion, the states forgiving years of oppression 
and the vast price of freedom. As friends and 
allies, commercially at least, the two might go 
on to prosperity and greatness far beyond what 
would have been possible beneath the previous 
conditions. Together they might gather and 
divide the wealth of the world. 1 Perhaps there 
was a little of romance in this horoscope ; yet 
it may have been both shrewYl and practicable 
in a purely business point of view, so to speak. 
But in desiring to carry it out Mr. Adams drew 
great drafts upon a very scanty reserve of mag- 
nanimity. America's capacity to forgive and 
forget was never tried : whether it would have 
been so great as he required, cannot be known. 
For England, who held the key to the future 
by having first to declare her commercial pol- 
icy, did at once, decisively, and with manifes- 
tations of rancorous ungraciousness, establish 
a scheme of hostile repression. Her plans were 
careful, thorough, merciless. The states were 
to be crushed in and driven back upon them- 
selves at every point, to be hampered by every 
tax, burden, and restriction that ingenious 
hatred could devise, to be shut out from every 

1 See, for example, the conversation with Mr. Oswald,. De» 
cember 9, 1782, reported in the diary, Works, iii. 344 et seq. 


port and from every trade that British power 
could close against them, in a word, to be hope- 
lessly curtailed, impoverished, and ruined if the 
great commercial nation of the world could by 
any means effect this object. Military efforts 
having failed, civil measures were to be resorted 
to with no diminution of obstinate and bitter 
animosity. It was only the field of hostilities 
which was changed. 

Mr. Adams beheld these developments with 
dismay and cruet disappointment. His gener- 
ous forecastings, his broad schemes and brill- 
iant hopes were all brought to nought ; his 
worst dread must be substituted for these fond 
anticipations. He was not discouraged for his 
country, nor had he any idea at all that she 
should give up the game, or that she must in 
the long run surely be beaten. lie only re- 
gretted the severe struggle, the needless waste, 
which were imposed upon her by what he re- 
garded as narrow and revengeful conduct. But 
he could not help it. He did all in his power ; 
but to no purpose. When at last he became 
finally convinced of this, when he saw that 
nothing could be accomplished at London for 
the states, he made up his mind that it was not 
worth while for him to do violence to his in- 
clinations by remaining there longer. 

Accordingly he sent in his resignation, and 


on April 20, 1788, set sail for home, bringing 
with him some very correct notions as to Eng- 
lish policy and sentiment towards the states, 
and yet feeling much less animosity towards 
that country than might have been looked for 
even in a man of a less hot disposition than 
his. A report commendatory of his services in 
Great Britain, drawn by Jay, was laid before 
Congress, September 24, 1787. But there was 
a disposition among some members to think 
that he had not managed matters with the best 
skill and discretion, and the report was rejected. 
A little reflection, however, made evident the 
unjust severity of this indirect censure, and a 
few days later the resolutions were easily car- 
ried, as they ought to have been in the first 



The homeward voyage from Europe breaks 
the life of John Adams into two parts, — very- 
dissimilar in their characteristics. Thus far 
he has appeared a great and successful man. 
He has owed little or nothing to good fortune. 
His achievements have been only Unfair re- 
sults of his hard toil and his personal risk ; his 
distinction has-been won by his ability and his 
self-devotion. His fair deserts at the hands of 
his countrymen are second only to those of 
Washington, and are far beyond those of any 
other public servant of the time. He has ap- 
peared honest, able, patriotic, laborious, disin- 
terested, altogether a noble and admirable char- 
acter ; generally his faults have been in abey- 
ance ; his virtues have stood out in bold relief. 
Had his career ended at this point he would 
have been less distinguished than he is in the 
knowledge and estimation of the multitude of 
after generations, but he would have appeared 
a greater man than he does to all persons suffi- 



ciently familiar with the early history of the 
United States to make their opinion and their 
esteem really valuable. Though he is to reach 
higher official positions in the future than in 
the past, yet it is undeniable that the past em- 
bodies far the brighter part of his public life. 
Heretofore the Bervioe and advantage of his 
country have been pursued by him with a sin- 
gle eye ; his foolish jealousy towards Washing- 
ton has been the only important blemish which 
any fair-minded opponent can urge against his 
character; and though he has committed slight 
errors in discretion, yet upon all substantial 
points at least, his judgment has been .sound. 
Bui henceforth, though his patriotism will not 
to his own consciousness become Less pure or a 
Less controlling motive, yel the observer will 
Bee that it becomes adulterated with a concern 
for himself, unintentional indeed and unsus- 
pected by him, but nevertheless unquestion- 
ably lowering him perceptibly. His vanity is 
to make him BOmetimes ridiculous; his egotism 
is occasionally to destroy the accuracy of his 
vision, so that he is to misjudge his own just 
proportion in comparison with other men, with 
the great party of which he becomes a mem- 
ber, even with the country which he fancies 
that he is serving with entire singleness of pur- 
pose. Anger will at times destroy his dignity \ 


disappointment will lead him to do what self- 
respect would condemn. He will be Led into 
more than one unfortunate personal feud, in 
which, though more wronged than wronging, 
he will not appear altoget 1km- free from blame. 
In a word, the personal element is henceforth 
to play much too large a part in the cona- 
tion, and the politician is to mar the aspect of 
the statesman. Vet this criticism must not be 
construed too severely; to the end lie remains, 
so far as he is able to read his own heart and to 
know himself, a thoroughly honest-minded and 
devoted servant of his country. 

Adams came home to find that new and 
weighty subjects of popular concernment were 
absorbing the attention of all persons. Inde- 
pendence had become an historical fact, belong- 
ing to the past, a truth established and done 
with; foreign relationships, treaties, alliances, 
were for the time being little thought of. These 
matters had been his department of labor. 
With the novel and all-engrossing topic which 
had crowded them out of the people's thought 
he had no connection ; and he stood silently by 
while men, whose names until lately had been 
less famous than his own, were filling the gen- 
eral ear with ardent discussions concerning that 
new constitution which they had lately framed 
and sent out to the people for acceptance or 


rejection as the case might be. In the consti- 
tutional convention Adams would have been 
peculiarly well fitted to play a prominent and 
influential part, had he been in the country 
during its sessions. His studies and reflection 
had been largely in that direction for many 
years, and his observations and practical expe- 
rience abroad gave him advantages over all the 
members of that body. But the tardy commu- 
nication with Europe had prevented his keep- 
ing abreast with these matters; and of course 
he could take no active part ; indeed many of 
the state conventions were in final session 
while lie was crossing the ocean, and Massa- 
chusetts rati lied before his arrival. On the 
whole he was well pleased with the document, 
not regarding it as perfect, as indeed no one 
among its friends did ; but in the main believ- 
ing it to embody much good and to involve 
such possibilities as to make it an experiment 
well worth trying. Certainly he was not among 
those who dreaded that it created too strong, 
too centralized, too imperial a system of gov- 
ernment. He, however, confined himself to 
watching with sympathy the labors of those 
engaged in promoting its success, and rejoiced 
with them in a triumph won without his assist- 

Possibly the fact that Adams had been allied 


with neither party in this struggle was in sub- 
stantial aid of his just deserts from other 
causes, when it became necessary to select a 
candidate for the vice-presidency. If past ser- 
vices only were to be rewarded, it is as certain 
that he deserved the second place as that Wash- 
ington deserved the first. He received it, but 
not in such a handsome way as he had a right 
to anticipate. That first election, as compared 
with subsequent ones, was a very crude and 
clumsy piece of business from the politician's 
point of view. The Federalists, that is to say 
the friends of the new constitution, ought to 
have united upon Adams; but they had not 
time for crystallization. Their opponents, the 
enemies of the constitution, were even less 
able to consolidate. Accordingly the votes for 
vice-president were disorganized and scattering 
to a degree which now seems singularly, even 
ludicrously bungling. Personal and local pre- 
dilections and enmities were expressed with a 
freedom never afterwards possible. The result 
was that out of sixty-nine votes Adams had only 
thirty-four, a trifle less than a majority, but 
enough to elect him. He had not been voted 
for specifically as vice-president, of course, such 
not being then the constitutional regulation ; 
but this had not the less been the unques- 
tioned meaning of the voting, since Washing- 


ton's election was tacitly a unanimous under- 
standing. Yet if it could have been explicitly 
stipulated that the second vote of each elector 
was given for a vice-president there would un- 
doubtedly have been a larger total for Adams. 
For several votes which in such case would 
have been cast for him were now turned from 
him, in order, as it was plausibly said, to avoid 
the danger of a unanimous and therefore 
equal vote for him and Washington. But this 
argument was disingenuous. There never was 
the slightest chance of a unanimous vote for 
Adams, and the withholding of votes from him 
was really designed only to curtail his personal 
prestige by keeping him conspicuously in a 
secondary position. It was the mind and hand 
of Alexander Hamilton which chiefly arranged 
and carried out this scheme, not wisely or gen- 
erously, it must be confessed. It was done not 
with any hope or even wish to prevent Mr. 
Adams from alighting on the vice-presidential 
perch, but only to clip his wings as a precau- 
tion against too free subsequent flights. This 
was the first occasion upon which these two 
men had been brought into any relationship 
with each other, and certainly it did not augur 
well for their future harmony. Unfortunately, 
the worst auspices which could be seen in it 
were fulfilled. A personal prejudice, improp. 


erly called distrust, on the part of Hamilton ' 
towards Adams, from this time forth led to do- 
ings which Adams, being human, could not but 
resent ; mutual dislike grew into strong ani- 
mosity, which in time ripened into bitter vin- 
dictiveness. The quarrel had such vitality that 
it survived to subsequent generations, so that 
later historians in each family have kept the 
warfare immortal. The Adams writers repre- 
sent Hamilton as clandestine, underhanded, sub- 
stantially dishonorable. The Hamilton writers 
represent Mr. Adams as an obstinate, wrong- 
headed old blunderer, whom their distinguished 
progenitor in vain strove to keep from working 
perpetual serious mischief. In fact, Hamilton, 
though constantly carried by his antipathy be- 
yond the limits of good judgment, did nothing 
morally reprehensible ; Adams, though com- 
mitting very provoking errors as a politician 
and party leader, never went far wrong as 
a statesman and patriot. In the present trans- 
action of this first election, Hamilton unques- 
tionably overdid matters. Even if it be ad- 
mitted that his avowed basis of action was 
sound, yet he diverted votes from Adams be- 
yond the need of his purpose, and exposed him- 
self to imputations which he would have done 
better to avoid. But his exertion of influence 
through letters tp his friends was not blame* 


worthy upon any other ground than this of in- 
discretion ; he had a perfect right to use his 
authority with individuals as he did. Adams 
came into office, not so much gratified at hav- 
ing gained it as embittered at having been de- 
prived of a free and fair working of his chances, 
as he expressed it. It was an unfortunate 
frame of mind in which to start upon a new 

On April 20 Mr. Adams was introduced to 
•the chair of the senate, and delivered a brief 
inaugural address. With an admirably happy 
choice of language, not without a touch of 
satire, he^spoke of his office as - a respectable 
situation." It was not a position in which 
either by nature or by past experience he was 
fitted to shine; as he correctly said, he had 
been more accustomed to share in debates than 
to preside over fchem. He was always full of 
interest in whatever was going forward, hot and 
combative, and ready of speech, so that in 
many a fray his tongue must have quivered 
behind his teeth, fiercely impatient to break 
loose. But he had some unexpected compen- 
sation for mere silent " respectability " in an 
unusual number of opportunities to exercise 
personal power in important matters. Cer- 
tainly no other vice-president has ever had the 
like, and probably no officer of the United 


States has ever been able to do so much by 
positive acts of individual authority. This wag 
due to the equal division of parties in the sen. 
ate, and his right to give the casting vote. 

The chief measures introduced in those early 
days were constructive, giving permanent form 
and character to the government. It is true, as 
has been so often said, that there were at first 
no parties, strictly so called, that is to say no 
political organizations having avowed leaders 
and defined principles. But there was the raw 
material, in the shape of two bodies of men 
holding fundamentally different opinions as to 
the constitution, and as to the government to 
be set up and conducted under it. The Feder- 
alists, as they already began to be called, had 
the advantage of immediate and clearly defined 
purposes and of able leaders. There were cer- 
tain things which they wished to have done, a 
series of acts which they sought to have passed 
by Congress. Hamilton, an ideal leader for 
precisely such a campaign, devised the general 
scheme, got ready the specific measures, fur- 
nished the arguments, controlled senators and 
representatives. But not infrequently it hap- 
pened that important Federalist measures hung 
doubtful in an evenly divided senate, waiting 
to receive the breath of life from the casting 
Vote of the vice-president. They always got 


it from him. He was not in the modern sense 
of the phrase by any means a party man ; he 
acted beneath no sense of allegiance, in obedi- 
ence to no bond of political fellowship. He had 
not been Dominated <»r elected by an y party; 
certainly he had nol the hearty or undivided 

BUppoH Of any party. Consequently lie was 

perfectly five to vote, and ho did vote upon 
every measure Bolely with reference to his own 
"ion of its merits and its effect He could 
not be charged by any one with disloyalty or in- 
gratitude, however ho might at any tim, 'Choose 
tM * ote - Nevertheless, no less than twenty 
times during the Life of the first Congress lie 
voted for the Federalists. 

In hot, Adams was h\ his moral and mental 
nature a Federalist. Practical, energetic, self- 
willed, he believed in authority, which indeed 
n «* was resolved for his own part always to 
have and to exercise. The helplessness of 
tlu ' old Bo-called rnmenl of the states, and 

their consequent poor standing abroad, had cor- 
roborated these instinctive conclusions. High 
in office, with a chance of rising still higher, 
sven to the pinnacle, he intended that the gov- 
ernment of which he was a part S hould be pow- 
erful and respected. When the question was 
raised as to the president's power to remove his 
cabinet officers without the advice and consent 


of the senate, Adams carried the measure by 
his casting vote in favor of that authority, and 
malicious people said that he ras dignifying 
the office because he expected in due time to 
fill it. But In* was in) more a democrat than he 
was an aristocrat; he believed in the massed 
not as governors, bui at best only as ♦'lectors of 
governors. His theory of equality between 
men was limited to an equalit y of rights before 
EEe law. 1 In point of fitness to manage the 
affairs of the nation he well know that, as 
matter of fact, there was the greatesl inequal- 
ity; he would have laughed to scorn the notion 
that there were many men who could be set in 
competition with himself in Mich functions. He 
believed that there was a governing class, and 

that in it lie occupied no insignificant position; 

lie was resolved to keep that class where it he- 
longed, at the top of society. Hut lie did not 
believe that the right to be in that class was 
heritable, like houses and lands: it was ap- 
purtenant only to mental and moral fitness. 
He was sometimes accused, like other Federal- 
ists, of an undue partiality for the British form 
of government. Hut he scouted with curt con- 
tempt the charge that he had any "design or 
desire" to introduce a "king, lords, and com- 

1 See, for example, his remarks on equality in a letter of 
Feb. 4, 1794; C. F. Adams's Life of Adams, oct. ed., p. 462. 


mons, or in other words an hereditary executive 
or an hereditary senate, either into the govern- 
ment of the United States or that of any indi- 
vidual state." He was therefore no aristocrat 
in the common sense of the phrase. The 
charge of a predilection for kings and lords 
was rank absurdity in his case, as in the cases 
of most of the other Americans against whom 
it was brought ; but it was so serviceable and 
popular a shape of abuse, that it was liberally 
employed by the anti-Federalists for many 
years, and Adams suffered from it as much or 
more than any other public man of the times. 
There was, however, that certain semblance or 
very slight foundation of truth in this allega- 
tion of aristocratic tendencies which is usually 
to be found in those general beliefs which 
nevertheless are substantially false. In 1770, 
in the simple provincial days, when he was only 
thirty-four years old, he said : " Formalities 
and ceremonies are an abomination in my sight, 
— I hate them in religion, government, sci- 
ence, life." But there was in him an instinct 
which he little suspected when he wrote these 
words in the days of youthful ardor and sim- 
plicity. As he grew older, saw more of the 
world, and found himself among the men hap- 
pily entitled to receive the trappings of author- 
ity, he grew fond of such ornamentation. He 


conceived that high office should have appropri- 
ate surroundings ; undoubtedly he carried this 
notion to excess upon some occasions. But it 
was the office and not the man which he wished 
to exalt. The trouble was that people could 
not draw the distinction, which seemed line but 
was essential. Nor could he assist them to do 
so by discretion in his own conduct. For ex- 
ample, his behavior provoked criticism along 
a considerable portion of his route from home 
upon his journey to be inaugurated as vice- 
president, upon which occasion he rode amid 
what his detractors chose to call an "escort of 
horse." The question of titles coming up im- 
mediately after the organization of Congress, he 
was well understood, in spite of his disclaim- 
ers, to favor some fine phraseology of this kind. 
His advice to Washington concerning the 
proper etiquette to be established by the presi- 
dent savored largely of the same feeling. He 
talked of dress and undress, of attendants, 
gentlemen-in-waiting, chamberlains, etc., as if 
he were arranging the household of a Euro- 
pean monarch. But he had seen much of this 
sort of thing, and had observed that it exerted 
a real power, whether it ought to or not. The 
office of president, he said, u has no equal in 
the world, excepting those only which are held 
by crowned heads ; nor is the royal authority 


in all cases to be compared with it. . . . If the 
state and pomp essential to this great depart- 
ment are not, in a good degree, preserved, it 
will be in vain for America to hope for consid- 
eration with foreign powers." 

Such a matter as this mtius of small conse- 
quence, but it meant wry much in those days. 
Moreover, the opposition wanted some one to 
abuse, a fact which Adams would have done 
well to make food for reflection, but did not. 
Fora long while they had to hold Washington 
sacred; they stood in some awe of Hamilton, 
who-.- political principles they could Impugn, 

but whom th<\ could not and indeed dared not 
try to make ridiculous: Adams alone served 

their turn as a target for personal vituperation. 

lie had not the art of conciliation; he was 
growing extravagantly vain ; lie was dogmatic; 
without being quarrelsome, yet he had no skill 
in avoiding quarrels. He was a prominent 
man, yet had no personal following, no praeto- 
rian guard of devoted personal admirers to fight 
defensive battles in his behalf. Neither was lie 
popular with the principal men of his own 
party, who cared little how vehemently or even 
how unjustly he was assaulted by his oppo- 
nents. He was therefore constantly pricked by- 
many small arrows of malice, none carrying 
mortal wounds, but all keeping up a constant 


irritation of the moral system. All this was 
very hard to bear; yet it did not really mean 
very much. This was apparent when it came 
to the time of the second presidential election, 
when Adams bad the pleasu re of receiving the 
full and fair support of his party . He owed 
this, however, more than lie was pleased to ac- 
knowledge, to the aid of one whom he did noi 
love. Hamilton, propitiated by the uniform 
and very valuable support accorded by him, 
as vice-president, to the Federal measures, now 
favored his reelection, and the word of Ham 
ilton was law. But, besides this, part ies had 
at last become well-defined. The anti-Fed- 
eralists were agreed upon George Clinton as 
their candidate, and the Federalists were com- 
pelled to unite in good earnest. The electo- 
ral votes stood, for Adams, 77 ; for Clinton. 50. 
He had reason to be pleased ; yet he could not 
be wholly pleased, since he had to see that 
Washington was the choice of the nation, while 
he was only the choice of a party. Moreover, 
\n the French revolution and the excitement 
which it was creating in the United States he 
scented coming scenes of trouble. The rest- 
lessness of the times was upon him ; he longed 
to take an active part. " My country," he said 
with impatient vexation, "has in its wisdom 
contrived for me the most insignificant office 


that ever the invention of man contrived or his 
imagination conceived. And as I can do nei- 
ther good nor evil, I must be borne away by 
others, and meet the common fate." To be 
borne away by others never much comported 
with tlif character of John Adams. 

During the troubled years of liis second term 
little is heard of Adams. The Federalists had 
gained such a preponderance in the Senate that 
he had fewer opportunities than before to cast 
a deciding vote. Public attention was absorbed 

for the time by the mm who eonld influence 

the course of the United States towards Prance 
and England in thai epoch of hate and fury. 
Adams, in his " insignificanl office,' 1 enjoying 
comparative shelter, saw with honesl admira- 
tion the steadfastness of Washington's character 
amid extreme trial, and witnessed with profound 
>\ mpathy the suffering bo cruelly indicted upon 
the president by the base calumnies of those 
enemies who now at last dared to indulge aloud 
in low detraction. For a time he felt a gener- 
ous appreciation of that sublime greatness, and 
forgot to make envious comparisons. 

Monsieur Genet, as every one knows, came 
to the United States with the definite purpose 
of uniting them with Fiance in the struggle 
againsl England. The one step essential to 
this end was to make the Democratic party 


dominant in the national councils, and nothing 
seemed to be needed to accomplish this Bave a 
little discretion on the part <>f the French gov- 
ernment, a little tact on the part of the min- 
ister. Fortunately, however, for the young 
country, discretion and tact were never more 
conspicuously absent. The consequence was 
that to France and Monsieur (-curt Mi-. Adams 
owed a gratitude, which it must be acknowl- 
edged that he never showed, for the continued 
ascendency of his party and his own accession 

to the presidency. Bui the measure of thanks 
which he might be inclined t<> return is not to 
be estimated with confidence. For the dis- 
tinction came to him in such shape that it 
brought at best as much irritation as pleasure : 
and again it was the hand of Hamilton which 
poured the bitter ingredients into the cup. 

When it became necessary for the people a 
third time to choose a president and vice-presi- 
dent of the United States, it seemed moderately 
certain that the Federalists would control the 
election ; but they had no such reserve of su- 
perflous votes that they could afford to run any 
risks or to make any blunders. The first mat- 
ter to be determined was the selection of can- 
didates. Hamilton was the leader of the party, 
inasmuch as he led the men to whom the bulk 
of the party looked for guidance. In its upper 



stratum he was obeyed with the loyalty of 
hero-worship : but he was not popular enough 
with the mass of voters to be an eligible nomi- 
nee. Eliminating him, there was no one else 
to compete with Adams, whose public services 
had been of the first order both in quantity and 
quality, who seemed officially to stand next in 
the order of succession, and who was not more 
unpopular than all the prominent Federalists, 
none of whom had the art of winning the affec- 
tion of the multitude. Adams accordingly was 
agreed upon as one candidate, and then geo- 
graphical wisdom indicated that the other 
should be a southerner. The choice fell upon 
Thomas Pinckney, an excellent gentleman, of 
the best character, of high ability, and suffi- 
ciently distinguished in the public service. In 
no department of fitness, however, could any 
comparison be drawn between Adams and 
Pinckney which would not show Adams to be 
unquestionably entitled to the higher position. 
The matter was not open to a doubt; it was 
generally understood that Adams was the Fed- 
eralist candidate for the presidency, and that 
Pinckney was candidate for the vice-presi- 
dency. But as the constitution yet stood the 
electors could not thus designate them in vot* 
ing ; and whoever should get the highest num- 
ber of votes would be president. 


Hamilton saw in this the opportunity, through 
his personal influence, to give effect to his per- 
sonal predilection. He had a deep, instinctive 
dislike for Mr. Adams ; it was very well for 
him to assert in self -justification that the 
grounds of his prejudice lay in doubts as to 
Mr. Adams's fitness for high official position. 
Possibly he tried really to believe this ; yet he 
certainly did not oppose Mr. Adams witli that 
openness or by those methods which would 
have naturally resulted from a sense of pos- 
sessing strong and sound objections to him. 
The plain truth was, that as matter of fact it 
was sheer nonsense to deny Adams's fitness. 
His disqualification was solely his unsubmis- 
sive temperament. There was no question 
that Hamilton was leader of the party ; and if 
it could be fairly agreed that his leadership in- 
volved of necessity his right to dictate the gen- 
eral policy, then Adams was not the man for 
the presidency. But such logic could not be 
openly proclaimed. Hamilton, if he had worked 
openly, must have impugned Adams's fitness 
on some other ground than that he would not 
fall prone beneath Hamiltonian influence. Such 
other grounds were not easily discoverable ; 
hence Hamilton had to work in covert personal 
ways. By private advice and letters he urged 
strenuously upon the Federalist electors, es* 


pecially those of New England, to cast all their 
votes for Adams and Pinckney. There was 
much danger, he said, that the deflection of 
a very few Federalist votes from either one, 
caused by some local or personal predilection, 
might give the victory to the Democrats, who 
were a perfectly united body. Every Federal- 
ist must vote for Adams and Pinckney, and 
not a vote must be thrown away. The perfect 
carrying out of this Bcheme would give the 
same number of votes to both these candidates, 
and practically would only throw into a Feder- 
alist Congress the question of ranking them. 
Tliis was plausible arguing, and the figures of 
the subsequent election seemed to corrobo- 
rate it. When the counting showed that Mr. 
Adams had only one more vote than was nec- 
essary to an election, and only three more votes 
than Mr. Jefferson, who actually secured the 
vice-presidency to the exclusion of Pinckney, 
it seemed that Hamilton had been very wise 
in his monitions. 

But the whole story was not apparent in 
these simple facts. From the beginning it had 
been almost certain that some southern Feder- 
alists would not vote for Mr. Adams, in order 
that thus they might give the presidency to 
Pinckney, provided they could trust the New 
Englanders to vote equally for both candidates 


It was well understood that Hamilton's influ- 
ence would not be seriously used against a de- 
sign with which he was more than suspected 
of sympathizing; and it was apparent -that liis 
advice to the New En glanders was not alto- 
gether so ingenuous as it seemed. Hence the 
Federalists went into the colleges in the worst 
possible condition of mutual suspicion and dis- 
trust, with divided purposes, and much too 
deeply interested in secondary objects. This 
led to the throwing away of votes. Some South- 
erners, who voted for Mr. Pinckney, voted also 
for Mr. Jefferson instead of Mr. Adams, and 
eighteen New Englanders voted for Mr. Adams 
and not for Mr. Pinckney. It was highly im- 
probable that the voting would have gone thus 
had it not been known that Hamilton was con- 
cerning himself in the election, and that he pre- 
ferred Pinckney to Adams. Abstractly con- 
sidered, his advice was sound, but he well knew 
that, if those, whom alone he could hope to con- 
trol, should follow it, then others, less subject to 
him, would neglect it, and would bring about a 
result which may fairly be called wrong. He 
had in fact, though not in form, done what he 
could to make Mr. Adams a third time vice- 
president, when the Federalist party intended 
to make him president. Mr. Adams did not 
at first understand all this. He said that Ham' 


ilton and " liis connections did not, I believe, 
meditate by surprise to bring in Pirickney. I 
believe they honestly meant to bring in me; 
I. ut they were frightened into a belief that i 
should tail, and they in their agony thought it 
better to bring in Pinckney than Jefferson. 
1 believe there were no very dishonest intrigues 
in lllis business. The zeal of some was nol 
very ardent to,- me , bul I believe none opposed 
me -" ,;,lt no! many days had elapsed after 
these words were written before the whole 
tl '" 111 w;,s «e< before -Mr. Adams. Thereupon 
his feelings underwent a Budden and violent 
change, and from that time forth he cherished 
towards Hamilton a resentment an,! distrust 
which under all the circumstances were entirely 
natural and pardonable. He was a good en- 
amy, whole-souled and hearty in his hatreds. 
I j.on the other Bide Hamilton, generally not 
•'• and unforgiving, indulged an excep- 
tional vindictive* ss in this quarrel ; ... that 
this animosity Bpeedily attained Buch intensity 
as to become a potent, almost an omnipotent in- 
fluence with each of these powerful men, and 
through them bore powerfully upon the course 
oi national event-, for many years to come. 

ft was perhaps a little amusing to Bee how 
incensed Mr. Adams was, when he discovered 
that there had really been a design to deprive 


him of a place which he seems to have looked 
upon much as if it were substantially his own 
property. There is such an opportunity to learn 
some of his traits from a naive passage in H let- 
ter writ ben by him on March 30, 17!>7, to I lenry 
Knox, that, though not otherwise valuable, it 
must be quoted. He says: "But t<> see such 
a character as Jefferson, and much more such 
an unknown being as Tin* knew brought over 
my head, and trampling on the bellies of hun- 
dreds of other men infinitely his superiors in 
talents, services, and reputation, filled me with 
apprehensions for the safety of us all. It dem- 
onstrated to me that, if the project succeeded, 
our constitution could not have lasted four 
years. We should have been set afloat and 

landed the Lord knows where. That must he 
a sordid people indeed — a people destitute of a 

sense of honor, equity, and character, that could 

submit to he governed, and see hundreds of its 
most meritorious public men governed, by a 
Pinckney, under an elective government. . . . 
I mean by this no disrespect to Mr. Pinckney. 
I believe him to be a worthy man. I speak 
only in comparison with others." Volumes of 
comment could not tell more than these sen- 
tences. The vehemence and extravagance of 
expression, the notion that his defeat would 
have destroyed the national existence, the gross 


depreciation of Pinckney so soon as he became 
a rival, the vanity involved in the tranquil as- 
sumption that in his own hands at least the 
great republic is perfectly and unquestionably 
safe, show Mr. Adams's weaknesses in strong 
relief. His own utter unconsciousness, too, is 
delightful; lie thinks that he is perfectly lib, 
eral and just when he frankly Bays that Pinck- 

i"> ifl a -worthy man." Id fact Pinckney was 

very much more, and the interests of the people 
]lav<> ,,lMlv than (, nce since that day been in- 
trusted t<» presidents much his inferiors in char- 
acter and ability, and have come safely through 

the jeopardy. 



Adams's victory was none the less a victory 
because it was narrow. Though lie had only 
seventy-one votes against Jefferson's Bixty-eight, 
he was president of the United States. Vexed 
as he was, hurt in his vanity, incensed with 
Hamilton, yet his heart swelled with a not ig- 
noble triumph. If the recognition of his long 
public service had not come in precisely the 
shape it should have come, at least lie could 
say to himself that this imperfection was due 
to the jealous antipathy of an individual. It 
was Hamilton, rather than his countrymen, who 
had attenuated his triumph. But the inaugu- 
ral ceremonies further disturbed his self-satis- 
faction. Certainly every president may fairly 
expect to be the grand central point of obser- 
vation and interest during the hours of his own 
inauguration. It was exceptionally hard luck 
for Adams that he undeniably was not so. 
Washington was present, of course, and toward 
him all faces seemed to be turned ; all were 


silent, and numbers wept as they gazed at the 
great national hero now leaving the public ser- 
vice ; when he left the hall the spectators, ab- 
sorbed only in him, rushed after him in throngs. 
A man less sensitive and egotistical than Adams 
might have felt that he was unfortunately sit- 
uated under the peculiar circumstances. He 
felt it keenly. He was reminded of the " rep- 
resentation of a tragedy ; " he said that he was 
the " unbeloved one:' he was surprised, ac- 
tually bewildered, at the distance which he saw 
that the people had established between him- 
self and Washington. No one would furnish 
him any other solution of the " enigma n of the 
u streaming eves," he said, and so he had per- 
force to suppose that it was "all grief for the 
Loss of their beloved." If all this had been de- 
signed by a thoughtful Providence as moral 
discipline for an excessively vain man, it could 
be objected to solely on the ground that the 
victim \\;is no Longer young enough to be sus- 
ceptible of improvement; so the only effect on 
Air. Adams was to exasperate and embitter 

In this condition of things the Democrats 
made an effort to capture Mr. Adams. They 
took good care to let him know all that had 
been done against him. Pickering, they said, 
in his official reports had maliciously kept in 


the background his services in connection with 
the treaty of 1783 ; Hamilton and Jay had 
meant to keep him only a vice-president, be- 
cause, fortunately, he was not the man to ap- 
pear only as the head of a party, and to be led 
by Hamilton. Jefferson wrote a letter to him, 
rejoicing that he had not been " cheated out of 
his succession by a trick worthy the subtlety of 
his arch-friend of New York, who had been 
able to make of his real friends tools for defeat- 
ing their and his just wishes. " This letter was 
indeed never delivered to Mr. Adams ; for Jef- 
ferson sent it open to Madison with instruc- 
tions to deliver it or not, as he should see fit, 
and, for some reasons not known, Madison did 
not see fit. But it explained Jefferson's plans. 
In the letter to Madison he said : Ck If Mr. 
Adams could be induced to administer the gov- 
ernment on its true principles, quitting his bias 
for an English constitution, it would be worthy 
of consideration whether it would not be for the 
public good to come to a good understanding 
with him as to his future elections." In pursu- 
ance of the same policy the vice-president, on 
arriving in Philadelphia, promptly called upon 
Adams, and also paid him a handsome compli- 
ment upon taking the chair of the senate, and 
was cordially zealous to establish a friendly 
relationship. Mrs. Adams, triumphing in the 

268 JOHN ADA}fS. 

defeat of Hamilton's "Machiavellian policy," ex- 
pressed pleasure at Jefferson's success, between 
whom and her husband, she said, there had 
never been "any public or private animosity." 
Hamilton had made a mistake, great enough in 
its real outcome, but which might have borne 
such fruits as would have Beemed to him noth- 
ing less than fatal, had they occurred. With 
many men the anticipations of Jefferson and 
the Democrats would have proved well-founded. 
But it was uot SO with Adams; no one by any 
subtlety or under any cover could introduce a 
policy into bis brain. He had his own ideas, 
and did his own thinking. Neither through hii 
wounded Belf-love, nor his hot resentment, could 
he be beguiled by Jefferson Into the ranks of 
Democracy. For good or for ill he had no 
master, open or unsuspected, either in Hamil- 
ton or in Jefferson. No writer has ever denied 
that he was at least an independent president. 

lb sketch the administration of John Adams 
with correct lines and in truthful colors is a 
task of extreme difficulty. The general effect 
ol an accurate picture must be singularly pain- 
ful and depressing, it must show us great men 
appearing small, true patriots forgetting their 
country in anxiety for their party, honest men 
made purblind by prejudice, and straying per- 
ilously near the line of dishonor. The story of 


those four years, though in them the national 
emergency was of the gravest, is largely a tale 

of the most bitter feud in American history. 

Even the one great act of patriotism which Mr. 
Adams performed stands like a lighthouse be- 

dimmed in a dense distorting fog of odious 
personal considerations. The quarrel between 
him and Hamilton constitutes a chapter which 
one who admires either of them would like to 
omit. Each has to stand on the defensive, and 
the defense is not easy to be made. It was a 
wretched affair in which heroes became petty, 
and ooble men ceased to inspire respect. The 
student finds the political literature of the 
period to be a mass of crimination and recrimi- 
nation : amid such acrimony it is not easy for 
him to hold himself uncontaminated by the 
temper of the combatants ; nor can he think it 
pleasant to have as his chief duty the allotment 
of censure among men at all other times praise- 
worthy. We have to show Adams pursuing a 
course substantially of sound statesmanship, 
but, through hot-headedness, pugnacity, an ego- 
tism almost criminal in a republic, and a lack 
of tact great enough to be accounted a sin, 
stumbling perpetually and hurting himself 
sorely upon many obstacles which he ought to 
have avoided, until finally he emerges from his 
stony path doing the smallest and most fool^h 


act into which a magnanimous man was ever 
betrayed ; we have to show Hamilton following 
an object of personal ambition by unworthy 
machinations, allowing his former prejudice 
against Mr. Adams to become degraded into a 
fierce personal resentment, and in pursuance 
thereof losing sight of patriotism in the effort 
to destroy his enemy by methods so mean and 
so unwise that \\c cannot read of them without 
a sense of humiliation, which he unfortunately 
never felt. Neither is it pleasant to see the 
lesser reputation of Pickering, that brave, faith- 
ful and upright Puritan, and the good name of 
\Volcott, who always meant to be an honest 
man, Bmirched with the blemish of unfairness. 
Such animosities live forever, eveo sometimes 
gaining increased bitterness from the loyalty of 
the descendants of the original combatants. 
Thus it hat been with these quarrels ; the story 
has been told many times, never with an ap- 
proach towards impartiality, till it requires no 
small courau r «' to tread again upon the "dark 
and bloody ground." 

The wars between England and France, be- 
tween monarehism and democracy or Jacobin* 
ism, or whatever the political principle of the 
French revolutionists is to be called, were 
fought over again in the United States, with 
less of bloodshed indeed, but not with less of 


rancor than distinguished the real contest. 
Each party in the country averred that it 
wished to keep out of the fight, and that its 
opponents wished to plunge into it. England 
and France, alike devoid of fear or respect for 
the United States, were equally resolved, in de- 
fault of securing her as an ally, at least to get 
the Utmost plunder out of her. England smote 
her upon one check with Orders in Council, 
France buffeted her upon the other with de- 
crees launched from Berlin and Milan, the con- 
quered capitals of prostrate Europe. England 
impressed her seamen, France shut up her ships 
and confiscated her merchandise. Jefferson 
berated England, Hamilton reviled France. 
There were abundant reasons for the United 
States to declare war against each of them; 
but there was also a controlling reason against 
any war at all, a reason which none expressed, 
but to which all submitted ; so that the wrath 
was pretty sure to vent itself only in words, 
unless the angry partisans should lose command 
of themselves, and get carried farther than they 
intended. In a most uncomfortable position 
between the two factions stood Mr. Adams, on 
the whole the safest statesman in the country 
to hold the helm in this crisis. His tempera- 
ment was that of the English race from which 
he was descended, and which can never sin« 


cerely and permanently appreciate or sympa- 
thize with the French temperament ; moreover, 
he had long since made up his mind that the 
theory of the states owing any gratitude to 
France was little better than sheer nonsense. 
But when the Federalists counted upon these 
influences to keep liim in the so-called Angli- 
can wing of their party, they forgot that hostil- 
ity to England had struck dec]) root in his mind 
through youth and middle age: they forgot that 
he had been neglected and insulted for three 
years in London, and that he had there ac- 
quired full knowledge of the deliberate design 
of England to crush and ruin her e\-colonies. 
So with about equal prejudices against each 
combatant. Mr. Adams was undoubtedly the 
most even-minded man then in public life in 
the states. His eye was Bingle in fact not less 
than in intention : he not only fancied himself, 
as all the rest fancied themselves, but he really 
was. which the lest were not, unbiased, devoid 
of friendship and trust towards each country 
alike. ( 'aring exclusively for the United States, 
as he had so boldly stated to King (ieorge, he 
had not the slightest doubt that the best policy 
for them was to keep out of the war. From 
the first davs of the Revolutionary Congress he 
had always dreaded European alliances ; he saw 
no reason now for changing the settled opinion 


which he had held for upwards of twenty years. 
War with either meant, of course, alliance with 
the other, and general entanglement in the for- 
eign snarl. The resolution to keep the peace, if 
possible, is the key to his policy throughout his 
four years. Even Jefferson said of him : l * I 
do not believe Mr. Adams wishes war with 
France, nor do I believe he will truckle to Eng- 
land as servilely as has been done." Mr. Ilil- 
dreth, also, who loves him not, says that his 
" opinions and feelings were precisely such as 
to free him from all possibility of foreign in- 
fluence, and to fit him for carrying out with 
energy and impartiality the system of exact 
neutrality which Washington had adopted/' 
These estimates of his character and senti- 
ments, from unfriendly quarters, were perfectly 

But the grave and very doubtful question 
was, whether it would be possible to keep the 
peace. Just at the time of Adams's acces- 
sion France seemed to be reaching the point 
of outrage at which the most helpless or the 
most pusillanimous nation must strike back. 
Her villainous stealings had been supplemented 
by even more exasperating insults. The rela- 
tionship of the two countries was briefly this : 
Gouverneur Morris, while minister at Paris, 
had manifested so active an antipathy to the 



revolution, that the success of that movement 
made it necessary to recall him. To cure the 
feelings which he had wounded, Mr. Monroe, 
of quite an opposite way of thinking, was sent 
to supersede him. But Monroe was carried 
away by the Jacobinical excitement into be- 
havior so extravagantly foolish as seriously to 
compromise the national interest^. He was 
called home, and Genera] C. 0. Pinckaey, a 
moderate Federalist, was sent as his successor. 
Thus matters stood, so Ear as was known in the 
states, when A.dama came to the presidency. 
Bu1 embarrassing news soon arrived. The 
French directory, at parting with Monroe, had 

given him a grand Ovation which, under the 

circumstances, was an intolerable insult to the 
United States; and furthermore the same reek- 
less bod) had refused to receive Mr. Pincknejr 

or to permit him to remain in France, even 

threatening him with police interference. A 

difficult problem was alrea<l\ before the new 


Mr. Adams's natural advisers were the mem- 
bera of his cabinet. His relations with this 

body, soon to become BO peculiar and unfortu- 
nate, were at first nearly normal and amicable. 

He had retained Washington's secretaries, Pick- 
ering in the state department, Wolcott in the 
treasury, and Mc Henry in the war department 


The first two were of sufficient ability for their 
positions; McIIenry was of a lower grade ; l>ut 
it was then so rare to find men at once lit for 
high public positions and willing to till them, 
and Washington had encountered bo much diffi- 
culty in reconstructing his cabinet, that Adams 
very justly conceived it imprudent to make 
changes. Nor indeed was it through lack of 
ability that his ministers gave Him trouble, hut 
through lack of sympathy with himself ami his 
policy, and later through want of openness and 
frankness in dealing wit h him. Under Wash- 
ington's administration these gentlemen had 
felt themselves on a different plane from that 
of the President, who stood far above any per- 
sonal competition or jealousy. Hamilton bad 
been Washington's most trusted adviser, and 
had, — properly enough under the peculiar cir- 
cumstances, — constant ly coniinunicat ed with 

and influenced Washington's cabinet. Thus 

there had grown up a little oligarchy, or clique, 
consisting of one statesman and three politi- 
cians, his subordinates, who had arranged and 
controlled the policy of the Federal party suc- 
cessfully and agreeably enough beneath the 
shelter of Washington's prestige, and Bubject 
always in the last resort to his sound and su- 
preme judgment. Adams had never been one 
of this clique, he had not even been regarded 


with any cordiality by its chief. The pleasant- 
est phase of the relationship between Hamilton 
and himself, up to this time, had been little 
better than negative, when at the time of his 
second candidacy for the vice-presidency Ham- 
ilton had accepted him as the least ineligible 
among possibilities, and had spoken moderately 
in his praise. But now that he was president, 
it was a serious question whether the previous 
comfortable arrangement could be continued. 
Would he make one of the little governing 
brotherhood? There was a fundamental con- 
dition precedent: Ik- could conic into it only 
as practically subordinate t<> Hamilton, though 
he might be spared the humiliation of an 
avowal "l- direct recognition of this fact. An 
instinct told all concerned that he was not the 
man for this position. But the fatal scission 
opened sl<>wl\. At the outset the ministers 
Mere only curious and anxious, not devoid of 
hope that a little dexterous management might 
make all go according to their wishes, while 
Mr. Adams had no idea, or at least no knowl- 
edge, that his relationship with them was 
marked by any exceptional character or any se- 
cret peculiarities unknown to himself. Shortly 
before his inauguration he had written to 
Grerry : ''Pickering and all his colleagues are 
as much attached to me as I desire. I have no 


jealousies from that quarter." It was very 
slowly that he at last acquired a different 

At the time of Adams's inauguration rumors 
had come that Pinckney had not been received. 
The idea of a new and more impressive mission 
at once occurred to many persons. On March 3 
Adams himself called on Jefferson and broached 
the topic. He would have liked to nominate 
the vice-president; but both had to agree that 
it would not do for that officer to accept such 
a post. Nor could Jefferson willingly abandon 
the direction of his party at this juncture. 
Then Mr. Adams asked whether Madison would 
go in conjunction with sonic prominent Feder- 
alist. Jefferson thought that he would not, 
but said that he would ask his friend. Two 
days later Fisher Ames, a thorough-going 11am- 
iltonian, called on the president, advised a new 
mission, and even suggested names. Soon the 
rumors concerning Pinckney were corroborated. 
Thereupon Adams at once summoned an extra 
session of Congress for May 15. He heard from 
Jefferson that Madison would not go to France, 
but he did not therefore abandon his original 
plan of a composite mission. He opened the 
scheme to Wolcott, but got no assistance from 
him. Wolcott, an extreme " Anglicist,'' only 
fell in with the notion slowly and reluctantly, 


and under the influence subsequently exerted 
by Hamilton. Perhaps it was fortunate for 
the success of the president's plan that for once 
he and Hamilton took the same view of the 
necessities of the situation. 

So soon as the news of the election of Adams 
reached Paris, the directory, greatly incensed 
that Jefferson had not been chosen, issued a de- 
cree more oppressive than any which had pre- 
ceded against the American commercial marine. 
This was heard of in the United States before 
Congress assembled, and aggravated the indig- 
nation of the Federalists. The speech of Mr. 
Adams at the opening of the extra session, in 
the composition of which he had been aided by 
his secretaries, was admirable ; il was dignified, 
spirited, and temperate. k> The refusal on the 
part of Prance to receive our minister," he said, 
w> is the denial of a right ; but their refusal to 
receive him until we have acceded to their de- 
mands w ithotit discussion and without investi- 
gation, is to treat us neither as allies, nor as 
friends, dot as a sovereign state." The " stu- 
dious indignity " at the leave-taking of Monroe 
he adverted to in language of natural resent- 
ment. Yet, he said, having the sincere desire 
to preserve peace with all nations, " and believ- 
ing that neither the honor nor the interest of 
the United States absolutely forbids the repe- 


tition of advances for securing these desirable 
objects with France, I shall institute a fresh 
attempt at negotiation." Nevertheless u the 
depredations on our commsrce, the personal in- 
juries to our citizens, and the general complex- 
ion of affairs render it my indispensable duty 
to recommend to your consideration effectual 
measures of defense." He suggested an in- 
crease of the regular artillery and cavalry, 
possibly also "arrangements for forming a pro- 
visional army." Above all he dwelt with es- 
pecial emphasis upon the need of a navy suili- 
ciently powerful to protect the coast thoroughly. 
This was a favorite measure with him, which 
he constantly urged. He believed that the 
United States easily could be, and certainly 
ought to be, a great naval power : unquestion- 
ably he thought that they should have ample 
means of naval defense. He had wrought ear- 
nestly in the same matter in the Revolutionary 
war. He now reiterated this advice with all 
the zeal and persistency in his power, and ac- 
tually did as much as his authority permitted. 
In one of his letters to James Lloyd, in 1815, he 
said that during the four years of his presidency 
he " hesitated at no expense to purchase navy 
yards, to collect timber, to build ships, and 
spared no pains to select officers." But his 
only reward was extreme unpopularity, even in 


the seaport towns of New England, with a re* 
newal of the old talk about his desire " to intro- 
duce monarchy and aristocracy." He at least 
cannot be blamed that the American navy 
never was developed as it should have been, laid 
was left to win its triumphs many years later 
in spite of utter neglect and discouragement. 

The new mission was determined upon, but 
its composition was not easy to arrange. If 
Madison would have served, Mr. Adams would 
have nominated Hamilton as his colleague ; at 
least he afterwards said that this was his pur- 
pose. Apparently he was desirous of clinging 
to the policy, which Washington had tried with 
imperfect success, of using the best men in both 
parties. Hut when Madison would not go, all 
thought of Hamilton vanished. Mr. Adams 
then suggested Genera] Pinckney, John Mar- 
shall, and Elbridge Gerry. Pinckney and Mar- 
shall were Federalists ; Gerry had generally 
been allied with the opposite party; he had op- 
posed the Federal constitution, and had ever 
since been regarded as an anti-Federalist ; lately 
indeed, as a presidential elector, he had voted 
for John Adams, but he had been influenced by 
an old friendship, and had written to Jefferson 
a letter of explanation and apology. Adams 
had a strong personal regard for him, and doubt- 
less now sought to do him a kind turn, though 


in the end the favor proved rather to be laden 
with misfortune. The selection now aroused 
warm opposition on the part of secretaries 
Pickering and Wolcott. These gentlemen, 
equally unlike the president, whom they dis- 
liked, and Hamilton, whom they revered, were 
not statesmen ; that is to say, they could not 
upon occasion subordinate the wishes and prej- 
udices, the likings and dislikings, which were 
items in the creed of their party, to a wise and 
broad view of national policy. They could not 
now see that the president's " piebald commis- 
sion " was a sound measure. After they had 
yielded with reluctance to Hamilton's approval 
of any commission at all, they fell back upon 
the position that at least it should be composed 
wholly of Federalists. They were submissive to 
their private leader, but not to their president. 
Therefore they strenuously objected to Gerry. 
Adams deferred to them with unusual amiabil- 
ity, gave up his own choice, and named Fran- 
cis Dana, chief justice of Massachusetts. But 
Dana declined, and then the president returned 
decisively to Gerry. The senate confirmed the 
nominations, and in midsummer, 1797, the two 
envoys, Marshall and Gerry, sailed in different 
vessels to join Mr. Pinckney. 

The three met in Paris early in October of 
the same year and notified M. Talleyrand, then 


foreign minister, of their readiness to deliver 
their credentials. What ensued is notorious 
and may be told briefly. A few days of civ- 
ility were succeeded by sudden coldness and a 
complete check in the advancement of busi- 
ness. Then came the famous and infamous 
proposal, that the envoys should agree to pay 
large bribes to Talleyrand and to certain mem- 
bers of the directory. They rejected this pro- 
posal with disdain. Thereupon, in January, 
1798, a new decree was issued against Ameri- 
can commerce. The envoys drew up a very 
spirited remonstrance against it, which how- 
ever Gerry was not willing to sign. Finally, 
after some delay. Marshal] got his passports on 
April 16, and Pinekney, after experiencing 
much discourtesy, was permitted to stay for a 
time in the south of France with his daughter, 
who was very ill. Gerry was persuaded by 
Talleyrand to remain. He was expected to 
prove more compliant than the others, and 
might yet he made use of as a conduit to intro- 
duce French schemes into American minds. 

In October, 1707, Adams expressed his fear 
that little immediate advantage could be ex- 
pected from this embassy, unless it should be 
* k quickened by an embargo." On January 24, 
1708, he propounded sundry queries to the 
heads of departments. He had already fore- 


seen as among the possibilities precisely what 
occurred, viz: the failure of the mission, and 
the departure from Paris of two envoys while 
the third remained abroad. In this case, he 
asked, what new recommendations should be 
made? Should a declaration of war be advised 
or suggested? Should an embargo be recom- 
mended? The reply of McHenry is supposed 
by Mr. C. F. Adams, with probable correct- 
ness, to embody the views of Hamilton, Picker- 
ing, and Wolcott. It proposed that merchant 
vessels should be allowed to arm themselves, 
that the treaties with France should be sus- 
pended, that the navy should be increased, that 
16,000 men should be raised for the army, with 
a contingent increase of 20,000 more. In his 
questions the president had asked what should 
be done as regarded England ; " will it not," 
he said, showing by the form of his query his 
own opinion, " be best to remain silent, to await 
overtures from her, to avoid a connection with, 
her, which might subsequently become embar- 
rassing?" Pickering would have preferred a 
close alliance with her, but failed in his attempt 
to secure Hamilton's approval of the plan, and 
therefore abandoned it. 

Early in March the news came which Mr. 
Adams had feared, and to some extent had pre- 
pared for. On March 5 the president commu- 


nicated to Congress a dispatch announcing the 
failure of the mission ; and a few days later, 
having deciphered the accompanying dis- 
patches, he sent a supplementary message, say- 
ing that all hope of accommodation was for the 
present at an end. He therefore advised contin- 
uance in the preparations for a war which, 
though he did not advise declaring it, must yet 
be regarded as not unlikely to ensue. Many 
lukewarm Democrats, disappointed and irritated 
by the persistent insolence of the directory, 
now abandoned their political allegiance ; but 
the main body of the party, reposing a wise 
and perfect trust in Jefferson, that most 
shrewd, patient, politic, and constant of lead- 
ers, remained unshaken in their sentiments. 
Whether the price of friendship with France 
were greater or less, they thought that it should 
be paid and the inestimable purchase com- 
pleted. One of their number introduced into 
the house of representatives a resolution that 
it was inexpedient to resort to war with France. 
The Federalists of all shades of opinion united 
in opposition to this. A fierce and prolonged 
debate ensued, of which the issue was very 
doubtful, when it was suddenly cut short by a 
motion from the Federalist side, made, as it was 
understood, at the instigation of Hamilton, call- 
ing on the president for full copies of all the 


dispatches. This was carried, of course ; and 
the president, well pleased with the demand, at 
once sent in the documents, complete in every 
respect save that he had substituted the letters 
W. X. Y. and Z. for the names of the emissa- 
ries engaged in the attempt to arrange the 
bribes for Talleyrand and the directory. 
Otherwise the whole story of that infamy was 
spread out before Congress and the country, 
without coloring or curtailment. 

Amazement and wrath burst forth on every 
side. A great wave of indignation against the 
venal government, which had offered itself for 
sale like a drove of bullocks, swept over the 
land, submerging all but the most strong-limbed 
Democrats. These sturdy partisans, struggling 
in the swirl, confused, enraged, cried out half in 
anger, half in despair, for time, only a little time 
to breathe, to rally, to reflect. If for a brief while 
the country could be held back from actually 
committing itself to hostilities, Jefferson fore- 
saw that the storm would subside. Then mul- 
titudes of his scared followers would drift back 
again and would adopt his theory, condemn- 
ing Talleyrand personally but thinking no ill of 
the great French nation. The respite, however, 
was uncertain ; the times were critical. In oppo- 
sition to the tricolor, Federalists wore in the 
streets a black cockade, provocative of fights, 


even of mobs. Crowds sang lustily the new 
patriotic ditty of " Hail Columbia." Wherever 
two or three persons were gathered together 
under any name or for any purpose, from* state 
legislatures down to boys in college, they drew 
up an address, full of patriotism and encourage- 
ment, and sent it to Mr. Adams. Never was a 
president so deafened with declarations of loy- 
alty and support. He composed answers to 
them all, and was doubtless glad to get them, 
though sometimes tempted to think that the 
I ns of his well-wishera were a trifle orer nu- 
merous. Fortunately, amid all the turmoil and 
excitement he bep< his power of cool reflection 
fairly well lb- recognized the facts not only 
that war would be a national misfortune, but 
thai in the present stage of the quarrel there 
was no sufficiently powerful war party to jus- 
tify declaring it, the body of persons who really 
wished for a war and who could be counted 
u P° n l<»g to remain of that mind being, in 
spite of appearances, nut large. He said this 
many years afterwards, and undoubtedly he 
judged correctly. lb- mad.- only one mistake, 
and that ultimately embarrassed only himself. 
In the middle of June, 1798, Marshall arrived 
at home, bringing with him the latest news and 
many details. The president at once recalled 
poor Geny, now overwhelmed with abuse and 


unpopularity, and sent a message to Congress 
communicating that fact, together with all that 
Marshall had brought to his knowledge. He 
concluded with the famous and unfortunate 
sentence, " I will never send another minister 
to Fiance without assurances that he will be 
received, respected, and honored, as the repre- 
sentative of a great, free, Independent, and 
powerful nation." This hit of foolish and 
superfluous rodomontade, characteristically es- 
caping from the too ready lips of Air. Adams, 
afterward caused him some annoyance. It can 
only be said that he was not singular in over- 
leaping the limits of strict discretion in those 
wild days, when indeed there was no man con- 
cerned in public affairs who did not give his de- 
tractors some fair opportunity for severe criti- 
cism, if he were judged according to the cold 
standard of perfect wisdom. 

The two grand blunders of the Federal party 
were committed in these same moments of heat 
and' blindness ; these were the famous Alien 
and Sedition Acts. No one has ever been able 
heartily or successfully to defend these foolish 
outbursts of ill-considered legislation, which 
have to be abandoned, by tacit general consent, 
to condemnation. Every biographer has en- 
deavored to clear the fame of his own hero 
from any complicity in the sorry business, un- 


til it has come to pass that, if all the evidence 
thai has been adduced can be believed, these 
Btatutea were foundlings, veritable filii nullius, 
for whom no man was responsible. Bui Mr. 
Adams,it must be acknowledged, did not stran- 
gle these children of folly ; on the contrary he 
Bel his signature upon them ; a little later he 
BVeD expressed a "fear" thai the Alien ad 
would ,1,,t w »pon trial be found adequate to 
t,H ' nl, .i , ' ,t intended ;" and many years after- 
ward, by which time certainly he ought to have 
" *wer, he declared, withoul repentance, 
lIi:it he had believed them to I- "constitutional 
ami salutary, if nol necessari ." 

Hut this summer and autumn of 1798 were 
nalized bj a matter much more unfortunate 
in its consequences for Adams personally than 
the rash utterance of an intention which was 
in its,. if perfectly proper, or than the signature 
-I Borne Ill-advised enactments. He was obliged 
tn nominate offi >r the provisional army, 

w 10 * '" doing this he unintentionally and with 

J'" fault on his own part stirred up much ill 

feeling and resentment. Washington, as lieu- 
tenanl j. NS;| . ,,,■ course ,,, i„. commander- 

m-chief. ( H this no on.- questioned the propri- 
ety; neither could fault 1m- found with the con- 
1 rions by which his acceptance was obtained, 
to wit : that he should not be called into active 



rvice until the Deed should be imperative, and 
that he should be permitted to select the gen- 
eral officers who were to serve in the next grade 
below him. He promptly named Hamilton, C. 
C. Pinckney, and Knox. Adams accepted the 
names without demur, and Dominated them to 
the senate together, in this order. Upon the 
same day and in the same order the nomina- 
tions were ratified. But forthwith there arose 
a perplexing question : what was the precedence 
between these three major-generals ? The 
friends of Hamilton said that it was established 
by the order of nomination and of ratification. 
Others said that it was determined by the rela- 
tive rank of the three in their former service, 
that is to say in the Revolutionary army. The 
latter rule seemed to be sustained by precedent; 
but, if adopted, it would make the essential 
change of putting Knox first and Hamilton 
third. Hamilton, however, had made up his 
mind to stand next to Washington, and his 
powerful following were resolved upon the same 
arrangement. There is not room to give the 
details of a competition which evolved infinite 
bitterness, and left behind it malignant jealous- 
ies and inextinguishable feuds. Adams was de- 
cidedly inclined against the pretensions of Ham- 
ilton ; he professed respect for the precedents ; 
he said that he did not wish to hurt the feelings 



of Knox ; he did not say, though doubtless he 
could have said with truth, that he did not care 
to confer on Hamilton a marked distinction of 
very doubtful propriety. But he soon found 
that, whether he was willing or unwilling, he 
must perforce do this especial favor. Washing- 
ton expressed his desire to have Hamilton 
second to himself, and his wish was conclusive 
in the premises. Adams finally was compelled 
to yield, though with no good grace, to a pres- 
sure which he could not resist. He never fully 
understood what machinery had been devised 
to create that pressure; but the whole story 
has since been told. Admirers of Hamilton 
and friends of Adams still wrangk about it. 
The former Bay that Hamilton's preeminent 
ability gave him a substantial right to the 

place, and that Washington needed not to be 
prompted by any (.nc to express emphatically 
his genuine preference. The latter say that 
Washington was worked upon by Hamilton 
himself, by Pickering and by Wolcott, secretly 
and artfully, in a manner at least unbecoming 
in the principal, and little short of dishonor- 
able in the two office-holding assistants. As 
usual in bitter personal quarrels the truth lies 
between the two sides. Washington undoubt- 
edly had an independent preference for Hamil- 
ton ; he was also probably led to put it in the 


shape of a positive ultimatum by representa- 
tions which ought not to have come privately 
from the members of the president's cabinet. 
As matters turned out the affair was unfortu- 
nate for all concerned. The rank did Hamil- 
ton no substantial good, since the army never 
even got into camp ; but the burning dislike 
between him and Adams was blown into a 
fiercer flame, in which the good name of each 
was badly singed. Neither did it bode any 
good for the Federal party that its chief men 
were largely concerned with quarrels among 
themselves, while so watchful, autocratic, mas- 
terly a politician as Jefferson was disciplining 
the united forces of the Democrats in the op- 
posite camp. 

The French government, at this time per- 
fectly unprincipled, and conducting affairs with 
reckless, hectoring insolence, would gladly have 
cajoled or terrified the United States into an 
alliance ; failing in this, they intended to give 
Frenchmen chances to get as much as possible 
in the way of pickings and stealings from 
American merchants. But fortunately the di- 
rectory had no desire for actual war with a re 
mote people, quite out of the line of European 
ambition and politics. Thus Talleyrand had 
held Gerry in Paris as a sort of door for re- 
treat when he should find that he had gone 


dangerously far. Matters standing thus, the 
greai French minister was astounded and nm a 
little mortified at the publication of his disgrace 
in the X. Y. X. dispatches. Of course he denied 
that he had known anything about the propo- 
sals tor bribery, hut of course also he knew 
that do one realrj believed a word of his pro- 
testations. In his irritation at his humiliating 
position, feeling himself an object of ridicule 
:i ^ lir stood exposed in his vulgar and disap- 
pointed rascality, he berated poor Gerry in a 
most outrageous manner. Bui Gerry had 
spirit and honesty, and retorted. Talleyrand, 
thus checked, quickly recovered his wont-. I 
audacious self-possession, appreciated the <-\i- 

1 " - of the situation, and saw the best way 
mit of it. There had been a greal mistake, be 

d, a farrago <»i' Lies, an astonishing misunder- 
standing : the Americans ought n<»t to he so 
angry; the) were under a singular delusion; 
1 "-■•• fell \<tv kindrj towards the United 
States, onlj wanted peace and friendship, would 

eive ministers with pleasure, and in ; , word 
was in tin- \,tx mosl amiable of humors. He 
wished t.. use Gerry as a means of conveying 
these news to the American government; hut 

ry, unpopular and suspected, was likely to 

[together inadequate to this purpose, An- 
other channel, therefore was found in Monsieur 


Pichon, French minister at the Hague, who 
was instructed to make advances to Vans Mur- 
ray, the American minister. These commu- 
nications Murray at oner repeated in private 
letters to Mr. Adams. At the beginning of 
October, 1798, Gerry was back in Boston, and 
told Mr. Adams, who by the way had not lost 
confidence in him, what Talleyrand had said 
to him. A tew days later Vans Murray's first 
letter, mentioning the approaches of Pichon, 
came to band. 

Beneath these influences, on October 20, the 
president wrote to Pickering concerning cer- 
tain "things which deserve to be maturely con- 
sidered before thf meeting of Congress," and 

Upon which Mr. Adams wished "to obtain the 

advice of the heads of departments.' 1 His first 
query was: Should he recommend a declara- 
tion of war'/ The next: ••Whether in the 
speech the president may not say that, in order 
to keep open the channels of negotiation, it is 
his intention to nominate a minister to the 
French republic, who may be ready to embark 
for France as soon as lie or the president shall 
receive from the directory satisfactory assur- 
ances that lie shall be received and entitled to 
all the prerogatives and privileges of the gen- 
eral law of nations, and that a minister of equal 
rank and powers shall be appointed and com 


missioned to treat with him." Upon receipt 
of this very unwelcome suggestion, the cabi- 
net ministers, according to Mr. C. F. Adams, 
"called together a council of their leading 
friends, including the military generals hap- 
pening to be assembled at Philadelphia, Wash- 
ington, 1 Hamilton, and Pinckney, where they 
matured the language of a draft intended for 
the use of Mr. Adams in his opening speech." 
Upon the president's arrival at the end of No- 
vember this paper was presented to him, as 
embodying the views of his cabinet in response 
to his interrogatories. It pleased him so well 
that he adopted it with the exception of a sin- 
gle clause ; but it so happened that in that 
clause the marrow and chief importance of the 
whole document lay. For it contained these 
words : " But the sending another minister to 
make a new attempt at negotiation would, in 
my opinion, 2 be an act of humiliation to which 
the United States ought not to submit without 
extreme necessity. No such necessity exists. 
... If France shall send a minister to nego- 

1 Mr. Adams says : " There is no evidence yet before the 
world that General Washington actually took part in the 

2 See this quotation in C. F. Adams's Life of John Adams, 
octavo ed. p. 536 ; Mr. C. F. Adams says that Gibbs gives 
it wrongly, by omitting the words " in my opinion." See 
Gibbs's Administrations of Washington and Adams, ii. 171. 


tiate, he will be received with honor and treated 
with candor." Now it so happened that " my 
opinion," thus offered ready-made to Mr. 
Adams, was far from being held by him. On 
the contrary he thought that, under certain 
circumstances, another minister might be sent 
without humiliation ; should those circum- 
stances come to pass he intended to send a 
minister ; and he was not ready to say that 
reconciliation could only be effected if France 
would take the initiative and herself dispatch 
the next envoy. So he struck out this passage, 
which set forth the views of his secretaries, 
and inserted in its place a long exposition of 
his own very different notions. His clauses 
are so framed as not only to express but to ex- 
plain and vindicate his policy ; and, long as 
they are, they are so important that they must 
be quoted in full. He said : — 

a But in demonstrating by our conduct that we do 
not fear war in the necessary protection of our rights 
and honor, we shall give no room to infer that we 
abandon the desire of peace. An efficient preparation 
for war can alone insure peace. It is peace that we 
have uniformly and perseveringly cultivated ; and har- 
mony between us and France may be restored at her 
option. But to send another minister without more 
determinate assurances that he would be received, 
would be an act of humiliation to which the United 


States ought Dot to submit. It must therefore be left 
to France, if -In- is indeed desirous of accommodation, 
to take the requisite 

"The United States will steadily observe the max- 
ima by which they have hitherto been governed. 
They will reaped the Bacred rights of embassy. Ami 
with a Bincere disposition ,>,, the part of France to 

isf from hostility, to make reparation for the In- 
juries heretofore inflicted upon oar commerce, and to 
do justice in the future, there will be no obstacle to 
the restoration of a friendly intercourse. In making 
to yon this declaration, I pledge to France and 

to the world that the executive authority of this coun- 
try still adheres to the humane and pacific policy 
which has invariably governed it. proceedings, in con- 
formity will, the wishes of the other branches of the 

eminent, an. I of the people of th,- [Jnited Sta 
lint considering the late manifestations of her policy 
toward* jn nations, I deem it a dot; deliberately 

and solemnly to declare my opinion, that, whether we 
negotiate with her or not, vigorous preparations for 
war will be alike indispensabl Th.-,- alone will 
give n- an equal treaty and insure it- observant 

rheae were tin- outlines of an excellent pol- 

lr . v - For any one win, knew tin- president 
knew well that In- meant all that In- -aid. that 
In- would get ready for war thoroughly, a 
that In- would make it in earnest, when it 
should become necessary. There was enough 
Bpirit, resentment, and vigor in the message to 


satisfy any man who could subordinate his tem- 
per to bis good sense. There was much more 
of real dignity in tins self-control, evidently not 
growing out of pusillanimity, than there would 
have been in flying into a counter-rage against 
France. In the comparison between the two 
governments, the American certainly appeared 
entitled to much mere reaped for good sense, 

and to Del [ess for COUrage. Mr. Adams showed 

the happy mixture of moderation and resolution 

which indicate the highest stage of civilization 

to which mankind has yel come in international 
relationship. But these traits did UOl com- 
mend themselves at the time to the Hamilton 
nian Federalists. They wanted what in the 
present day is called a "strong policy," so 
"strong" that it would almost surely have 
ended in a war, in which the country would 
have been overwhelmed with disaster, in at- 
tempting to preserve that crude kind of honor 
cherished by knights-errant, duelists, and pu- 
gilists. Having substantially this aim in view, 
though it must be confessed that they would 
not have accepted precisely this formulation of 
it, they were made very angry by Mr. Adams's 
message, and by his rejection of the words 
which they had so conveniently and consider- 
ately got ready for him. They even fell into 
such a frame of mind as to fancy that he had 


no political right to do as lie had done. They 
conceived that in their conference they had es- 
tablished the policy of the party, and they did 
not think that Mr. Adams, simply because he 
was president, had a right through his own sole 
and individual action to make a fundamental 
change in that policy. But Mr. Adams utterly 
ignored party discipline. His own convictions 
w»tc the sole and immutable law of his own 
aci ions. 

During the winter of 1T'. ,V l' 1 .' Mr. Adams re- 
ceived more Letters from Vans Murray, which, 

with some corroborating information* strength- 
ened his faith in the willingness of France to 
meet any advance fa his pari towards a re- 
newal oi negotiations. At length, apparently 
early in February, 17 , . ,, . ) , he received a letter 

from Murray, inclosing an official dispatch from 

Talleyrand bo Pichon, in which occurred these 
words : •* I Vapp . \ i »ufi ;i\ ez eu raison 

d'avancerque tout ple*nipotentiaire tyue le gouv- 
ernemenl des Btata Unia enverra en Prance, 
pour terminer lea differends qui subsistent entre 
les deux pays, seraii incontestablement recti 
avec 1 rds dds ad representant d'une na- 

tion libre, inde*pendente e1 puissante. 

This gave Mr. Adam- a sufficient basis for 
action. More than this, as Mr. C. F. Adams 
puts the case not unfairly, it imposed upon him 


a serious responsibility ; for it was a semi-offi- 
cial notification to him that France, falling at 
last into a penitent humor, desired to be ad- 
I again in the way of negotiation, [f he, 
in a distant, and haughty temper, should hold 

aloof before this advance, and if then war 
should ultimately ensue, lie might well feel 
that he had precipitated ;i terrible evil from no 
better motive than an over-strained sense of 
pride. Moreover, when the facts should become 
known, as they inevitably must, the Democratic 
party, even now powerful, would l>e greatly 
strengthened by being able to say that French 
overtures had been rejected. The moderate 
men who had Lately oscillated from Democracy 
to Federalism would oscillate back again from 
Federalism to Democracy. What chance would 
there then be of conducting successfully ;i war 
with France, when a large part} would be bit- 
terly opposed to it, and another large body, the 
two together making more, than half of the na- 
tion, would be at best lukewarm ? Mr. Adams 
felt no need of aid in order to determine upon 
his course. With a cool independence, unus- 
ual then or since upon the part of a president, 
and not perfectly in accord with the senthnent 
of the American system of government, though 
strictly lawful under the constitution, he dis- 
pensed with the form of consulting his cabinet, 


whose advice he had good reason to feel assured 
would not accord with his own, and therefore 
would not be followed. On February 18, 171U), 
he sent in to the senate the nomination of Vans 
Murray to be minister to France, premising, 
however, that Murray should not present him- 
self in Paris until the French government 
should give a public and official assurance that 
they would receive the envoy in character and 
would appoint a minister of equal rank to treat 
with liim. 

The message fell like lightning from a clear 
skv among the Federalist*. Pickering hastened 
to Bend the news to Hamilton. "We have all 
been shocked and grieved at the nomination of 
a minister to negotiate with France. ... I beg 
you to be assured thai it is wholly his [the 
president's] own act, without any participation 

or communication with any of us. . . . The 
foundation of this fatal nomination of Mr. Mur- 
rav was laid in the president's speech at the 

opening of Congress. lb- peremptorily deter- 
mined (against our unanimous opinions) to 
Leave open the door for the degrading and mis- 
chievous measure of sending another minister 
to France, even without waiting for direct over- 
tures from her." 

" I have neither time nor inclination," Sedg- 
wick wrote to Hamilton concerning the mes- 


Bage, " to detail all the false and insidious dec- 
larations it contains. . . . Had the foulest heart 
and the ablest head in the world been permitted 
to select the most embarrassing and ruinous 
measure, perhaps it would have been precisely 
the one which has been adopted. In the di- 
lemma to which we are reduced, whether we 
approve or reject the nomination, evils only, 
certain, great, but in extent incalculable, pre- 
sent themselves. " Angry and astonished, the 
Hamiltonian wing of the party knew not at 
first what to do, and then in their confusion 
did a very strange thing. The committee to 
whom the nomination was referred, consisting 
of five Federalists, called on the president to 
demand reasons and insist on alterations. Sedg- 
wick, the chairman, a thorough-going partisan 
of Hamilton, admitted that this proceeding was 
an "infraction of correct principles;' Mr. 
Adams declared that it was unconstitutional, a 
word perhaps somewhat too powerful for the 
occasion. It was finally agreed that the inter- 
view should be strictly unofficial, and then the 
gentlemen talked the business over together. 
Mr. Adams said, according to Sedgwick's state- 
ment, " that to defend the executive from oli- 
garchic influence it was indispensable that he 
should insist on a decision on the nomination ; " 
that he would " neither withdraw nor modify 


the nomination ; " but, if it should be negatived, 
he " would propose a commission, two of the 
members of which should be gentlemen within 
the United States.'" 

The visitors retired in a bad temper. A 
meeting of Federalist senators was held ; and 
it was agreed that, whatever they might ulti- 
mately be compelled to do, they would at least, 
in the first instance, enjoy the pleasure of re- 
jecting Vans Murray. Mr. C. F. Adams ac- 
knowledges that there were objections against 
him, "such as Benators might legitimately enter- 
tain and as were not without intrinsic weight.'' 
But the president Btole a second march upon 
the irritated enemies who were preparing ob- 
stacles for his path. At the next meeting of 
the senate Sedgwick was asked to hold back his 
report because the president had another mes- 
sage ready. This was at once delivered; it 
nominated three persons: Chief Justice Oli- 
ver Ellsworth, Patrick Henry, and Vans Miuv 
ray to be joint commissioners to France. Ham- 
ilton meanwhile, in reply to the news of Vans 
Murray's nomination, had written to Sedgwick 
that ik the measure must go into effect with the 
additional idea of a commission of three. The 
mode must be accommodated with the presi- 
dent." Unwittingly Mr. Adams had come 
within the advantage of Mr. Hamilton's dio 


turn ; and the discontented Federalists, who 
would readily have encountered the president, 
yielded at once to their real chief. Sedgwick 
replied: " This is everything which, under the 
circumstances, could be done." The nomina- 
tions were confirmed, and oddly enough the 
confirmation of Murray alone was by a unani- 
mous vote. Henry declined on the score of age 
and infirmity, and Governor Davie, of North 
Carolina, was appointed in his stead. 

The sole chance now left to the " Anglicist" 
Federalists was in the possible fruits of delay. 
The president, feeling that reaction which fol- 
lows extreme tension, tarried in Philadelphia 
only long enough to determine the brief and 
simple ultiynata of the instructions for the com- 
missioners. Then he went home for rest and 
vacation at Quincy. On March '» Pickering 
wrote to Vans Murray, stating what had been 
done and that Ellsworth and Davie would em 
bark immediately upon receipt of the official 
promise that they should be properly received 
and admitted to negotiations. Early in May 
Murray received the dispatch, and communi- 
cated its substance to Talleyrand. That min- 
ister at once gave the required assurance for- 
mally and officially ; but unable altogether to 
restrain his irritation, he delivered himself also 
of some insulting criticism to the general pur- 


port that the conduct of the Americans had 
been disingenuous and captious. On July 30 
these papers reached Pickering, and he imme- 
diately transmitted them to Mr. Adams at 
Quincy, calling especial attention to the injuri- 
ous language. But Adams, looking to the sub- 
stance and not permitting himself to be too 
greatly incensed by mere impertinence, directed 
that the instructions should be got ready. Ap- 
parently it was nearly live weeks before this 
order was fulfilled : and when at last the draft 

• lied Mr. Adams, it came inclosed in a letter 
from Mr. Pickering intimating that in view of 
recenl political changes in France, including 
the resignation of Talleyrand, the cabinet sug- 

ted delay. Mr. Adams replied that he was 
(piite willing to assent to a postponement until 
the middle or end of < October. By ( October 10 
lie was at Trenton, the temporary seat of gov- 

Matters then- were not pleasant, lie was ill 

and in poor condition for an encounter, yet lie 
found the opponents of bis policy gathered to 
resist it. There were assembled his thre< 

retaries. all Mubbornly hostile to the mis-ion; 
Hamilton soon arrived, and at their invitation 

Ell8WOrth also appeared upon the scene, giving 
his influence with much caution and reserve, 
but, such as it was, giving it to the opposition. 


There came news, too, just at this juncture, of 
disasters to the French arms. The Hamiltoni- 
ana triumphantly foretold that a few days would 
bring the glad intelligence that the French 
king was enjoying his own again in the royal 
palaces of Paris. Mr, Adams listened in an 
unusually silent and tranquil temper. On Oc- 
tober 15, in the evening, he summoned a cab- 
inet meeting, at which he brought up for dis- 
cussion two or three points in the instructions, 
which were easily settled. He gave no more 
indication that he was about to take a decisive 
step than he had given before sending in Vans 
Murray's nomination. Nevertheless, two of the 
secretaries "received before breakfast" on the 
following morning orders that the Instructions 
should be at once put in final shape, and that 
a frigate should be got in readiness to take the 
commissioners on board not later than Novem- 
ber 1. They actually set sail on November 5. 
This French mission was the death-blow of 
the Federalist party. The political body was 
rent in twain ; the two parts remained belted 
together by their common name, but no longer 
instinct with a common vitality. It had been 
a very grand party, an organization full of 
brains and vigor, a brotherhood embracing a 
remarkable number of able and honest men ; it 
had achieved deeds so great as to outstrip exag- 



geration ; it had given form and coherence to 
the political system, strength and the power of 
living to the infant nation. A sad spectacle was 
indeed presented when a party so nobly distin- 
guished lapsed into disintegration and the hope- 
less ruin of intestine feuds. No wonder that 
vindictive rage possessed those men who had 
created it, who had lived in it and for it, who 
had honestly and zealously served it, and wholly 
identified themselves with it. Less than half 
of the party in numbers, but much more than 
half in influence, ability, and prominence, 
pointed to Mr. Adams as the parricide who 
had done this cruel slaying. This assertion, re- 
iterated with furious clamor at the time, has 
since been adopted as an established fact in 
American history ; every one thinks that he 
knows that Mr. Adams destroyed the Federal 
party by acting counter to its policy. But who 
had the right to establish the policy of the 
party? Hamilton had tacitly arrogated it to 
himself. When in office, he had created the 
party, established its principles, formulated it? 
measures, trained and led its forces, and made 
its victories possible ; since retiring to private 
life, he had counseled and controlled its leaders. 
A large proportion of the most influential Fed- 
eralists, in and out of office, including three 
members of the cabinet and many of the best 


speakers of the party in Congress, conceived 
that revolt against his supremacy was defection 
from the party. Nevertheless in no caucus of 
Federalist members of Congress could these 
Hamiltonians ever muster a majority against 
Mr. Adams. Neither does there seem any 
doubt that upon a simple vote of all the Feder- 
alists in the country, taken at any time during 
his administration, much more than half would 
have sustained him. War with France never 
had been, never could be, avowed by the Ham- 
iltonian section as a principle of the party. On 
the contrary, they professed to desire peace. 
Mr. Adams secured peace by a step against 
which they could urge no graver objection than 
that it was not sufficiently high-spirited to com- 
port with the national dignity. Then the party 
divided, and they said that Adams was to blame. 
Their conclusion does not seem to be fully sup- 
ported by the facts. 

But the allotment of responsibility between 
Adams and Hamilton, and the dispute as to 
which of them was better entitled to establish 
the party policy, are matters of vastly less im- 
portance than the question upon which side 
right and wisdom lay. This seems to require 
no discussion beyond the briefest statement of 
the great facts. War was avoided, by means 
which no one now thinks of stigmatizing aa 


degrading. The method was devised by Mr. 
Adams, and the result was won by his persist- 
ent adherence to that method. One is inclined 
to say that, if in all this he ran counter to the 
policy of his party, it was very discreditable to 
the party to have such a policy. In fact pretty 
much all writers now agree that Adams be- 
haved with courage, patriotism, and sound judg- 
ment, and that he placed the country under a 
great debt of gratitude ; a debt which was 
never paid in his lifetime, and only since his 
death has been very tardily and ungraciously 

Whether or not Mr. Adams was a parricide 
as towards his party, he was certainly a suicide 
as towards himself. The act of Curtius in leap- 
ing into the gulf to save Rome was a more pic- 
turesque but not a more unquestionable deed of 
patriotic self-immolation. From that fifth day 
of November, 1799, Mr. Adams was a doomed 
man. No effort could now restore harmony 
among the discordant ranks of the Federalists. 
For the future all the earnest fighting on their 
part was done inside their own camp and 
against each other. It is a melancholy and un- 
profitable story of personal animosities, which 
may be briefly told. 

That Mr. Adams anticipated the results 
which followed his action is not probable. 


* There is nothing to indicate that he had any 
idea that he was disrupting and destroying the 
Federal party. But to his credit it, should also 
be said that there is no indication that he con- 
sidered this matter at all. Every particle of 
evidence — at least all which has been published 
— goes to show that his mind was wholly occu- 
pied with the interests of the nation, to the ut- 
ter exclusion of any thought of his party or of 
himself. After the irretrievable ruin which 
overtook him, amid the execrations of the Fed- 
eralists, who attributed their utter destruction 
wholly to him, he never gave a symptom of re- 
gret, never said a word except in strenuous sup- 
port of his action. Beyond question he was 
too profoundly convinced that he was right to 
be moved from his opinion by any consequences 
whatsoever. His unchangeable sentiments were 
those expressed by him in 1815, in one of his 
letters to James Lloyd : " I wish not to fatigue 
you with too long a letter at once, but, sir, I 
will defend my missions to France as long as I 
have an eye to direct my hand or a finger to 
hold my pen. They were the most disinter- 
ested and meritorious actions of my life. I re- 
flect upon them with so much satisfaction, that 
I desire no other inscription over my gravestone 
than : 4 Here lies John Adams, who took upon 
himself the responsibility of the peace with 


France in the year 1800.' " Substantially this 
has been also the verdict of posterity, and a 
transaction which at the time of its occurrence 
found hardly any defender, now finds hardly 
any assailant, Modern writers of all shades of 
opinion agree that Adams acted boldly, hon- 
estly, wisely, and for the best welfare of the 
country, in a very critical peril 



Semel insanivimus omnes ! In this chapter 
the behavior of many wise and illustrious men 
is to bear evidence to the truth of this adage. 
For madness certainly ruled the closing months 
of Adams's administration. 

The foregoing pages have given glimpses 
rather than a complete picture of the unhappy 
relationship existing between the president and 
three of his secretaries. Nothing more unfor- 
tunate befell any one of them throughout his 
career. In the prosecution of the quarrel each 
appears at his worst ; Mr. Adams's foibles of 
hot-headedness and of a vanity almost incred- 
ible in its extravagance stand out in painful re- 
lief. Pickering, Wolcott, and McIIenry, honest 
men all, do the only ignoble acts of their lives. 
All four seem crazed by prejudice and rage. 
They are so bereft of all fair intelligence as 
utterly to ignore not only the character but the 
effect of their own acts, which run counter to 
sound judgment even more than to right feeling. 


By the time to which our narrative has come 
the secretaries absolutely hated the president ; 
they were in such a state of mind that, without 
appreciating it, they treated him with thor- 
oughly bad faith; they betrayed all official dis- 
cussions to Hamilton ; they sought and fol- 
lowed Hamilton's advice. They did this for 
the purpose of gaining Hamilton's invaluable 
aid in their opposition to their proper chief, and 
they deceived themselves into a belief that in 
thus conducting themselves they were doing 
strictly right. Their vindication was that 
Adams's policy was destructive of their party, 
and was intrinsically wrong ; that therefore it 
was their duty to counteract it by all the means 
which even their office as his confidential advis- 
ers put in their power. Their ethics were sin- 
gular and have noi generally been accepted as 
sound. According to received principles, fair 
dealing to Mr. Adams, even justice to them- 
selves, would have led them to resign, when 
they so utterly differed from him that their 
sole aim was to thwart him. But however this 
may have been, certain it is that any decent 
sense of propriety, nay, for the word must be 
used, of honor, would have led them to refrain 
from communicating cabinet secrets for use 
against the president by his avowed enemy. 
Mr. Adams did not know what was going on; 


he even went down to his grave ignorant of 
much of this mechanism by which he had suf- 
fered so severely. But without fully knowing 
the cause he could dimly perceive where it lay. 
He wisely concluded that some changes in the 
cabinet could be advantageously made 

Mc Henry was the first to go. He had been 
laborious and was in the main a well-meaning 
and amiable man, but he was notoriously in- 
competent for his position. His wonderfully 
ill-written sketch of his parting interview with 
Mr. Adams, the only existing account of a 
strange scene, is worth repeating in full. On 
May 5, 1800, the president sent for him. 

" The business appeared to relate to the appoint- 
ment of a purveyor. . . . This settled, he took up 
other subjects ; became indecorous and at times out- 
rageous. General Washington had saddled him with 
three secretaries, Wolcott, Pickering, and myself. I 
had not appointed a gentleman in North Carolina, the 
only elector who had given him a vote in that state, 
a captain in the army, and afterwards had him ap- 
pointed a lieutenant, which he refused. I had biased 
General Washington to place Hamilton in his list of 
major generals before Knox. 1 had eulogized Gen- 
eral Washington in my report to Congress, and had 
attempted in the same report to praise Hamilton. In 
6hort there was no bounds to his jealousy. I had 
done nothing right. I had advised a suspension of 
the mission. Everybody blamed me for my official 
conduct, and I must resign." 


Before such a storm of abuse McKenry went 
down at once. He " resigned the next morn- 
ing." This lively picture certainly shows Mr. 
Adams in one of his worst moods, mingled of 
anger, egotism, and that one great foolish 
jealousy of his life, which consumed his heart 
whenever he heard the praises of Washington. 
His grandson admits, with nepotal gentleness 
of phrase, that he was not upon this occasion 
either considerate or dignified ; but says that 
he appeared to much more advantage soon 
afterward in ridding himself of Pickering. So 
lie did. Pickering richly deserved unceremoni- 
ous expulsion; but Mr. Adams courteously of- 
fered him the opportunity to resign. It may 
be admitted that he probably would have been 
much less considerate had his knowledge of 
Pickering's behavior been less imperfect. The 
stiff-backed and opinionated old Puritan, full of 
fight and immutable in the conviction of his 
own righteousness, refused to appear to go vol- 
untarily, and was thereupon dismissed. On the 
whole it was probably fortunate that Mr. 
Adams did not know how badly these gentle- 
men had been behaving towards him, or scenes 
of awful wrath and appalling violence would 
have enlivened the biographic page. 

The vacancies thus made were filled more 
easily than might have been expected. Mar- 


shall, having declined the position of secretary 
of war, accepted that of secretary of state, and 
Samuel Dexter took the war department. Wol- 
cott, who deserved to go quite as much as either 
of the others, remained ; but he only remained 
to do further injury to his own good name, and 
to enact a very ungenerous part. He had hab- 
itually spoken the president so fair, that he was 
regarded by Mr. Adams as a friendly adviser, 
though very far from really being so. He now 
continued for some months longer to combine 
external civility and deference to the president 
with the function of cabinet-reporter, so to 
speak, — and to avoid the word spy, — for Mr. 
Hamilton. In the following November, amid 
all the vexations which that ill-starred season 
brought to Mr. Adams, he sent in his resigna- 
tion to take effect at the end of the year, thus 
leaving the president to look for an incumbent 
who would be willing to hold the office for two 
months with the certainty, of course, of being 
superseded immediately upon Jefferson's acces- 
sion. Yet strange to say, Adams always felt 
kindly towards Wolcott, and among the last 
acts of his administration made him a judge. 
Never to his dying day did he learn how false 
Wolcott had played him. 

The story went, at the time, that Mr. Adams 
had turned out Pickering in order to conciliate 


Samuel and Robert Smith of Baltimore, and to 
gain their votes and influence in the electoral 
college. The malicious calumny was after- 
ward abundantly disproved. Another piece of 
hostile electioneering gossip was called forth by 
the pardon of Fries. This man had led the 
riots, or as some preferred to say, the rebellion, 
in eastern Pennsylvania, in 1799. Twice he 
was convicted of treason and was sentenced to 
death, which certainly he abundantly deserved. 
Mr. Adams pardoned him, and was at once 
reviled as having done so only because it was 
"a popular act in Pennsylvania.*' But such 
attacks as these were the most commonplace 
features of this presidential campaign of 1800. 
Never did a political party enter into such a 
contest in so sorry a condition as that of the 
Federalists. Harassing as Mr. Adams had 
found the presidency, he burned with ambition 
to obtain it again. Before his election, discuss- 
ing the comparative prosp-eUof Jefferson, Jay, 
and himself, he had said: "If Jefferson and 
Jay are president and vice-president, as is not 
improbable, the other retires without noise, or 
cries, or tears to his farm." But circumstances 
were different now. lb- had been pitted against 
bitter opponents in a fierce controversy of great 
moment, which had divided the country. It 
was not unnatural that he should desire a pop 


nlar ratification of his policy. The Hamilto- 
nian section, filled with implacable rage towards 
him, contemplated the possibility of his success 
with utter sickness at the heart. Could noth- 
ing be done to prevent it? Could no means be 
devised for setting him aside? Their first plan 
reflected no credit upon themselves. Jt was to 
induce Washington to come out from his retire- 
ment and stand as their candidate. It is im- 
probable that any force of persona] influence 
would have sufficed to give success to so un- 
worthy, so cruel a scheme for making a selfish 
and partisan use of this noble patriot in the 
days of his old age. It" any such danger to him 
existed, it was indeed an opportune death which 
rescued him from it. He escaped even the in- 
jury of the proposition. After this chance was, 
it may almost be said fortunately, eliminated, 
Hamilton traveled through New England, to 
feel the pulse of the party. He was compelled 
sadly to report, that though " the leaders of the 
first class" were all right, " the leaders of the 
second class" were all wrong: he saw plainly 
that, when it came to scoring votes. Adams was 
the only Federalist who could bring out the 
party strength in this section of the country. 
This fact was undeniable and conclusive: 
Adams must be the candidate. The old scheme 
indeed might be resorted to ; equal voting for 


Adams and Pinckney might be urged upon the 
New England electors, with the secret hope that 
some faithless Southerner might throw out Mr. 
Adams and make Mr. Pinckney president ; or 
that in case of real good faith Congress might 
accomplish the Bame result. But this poor and 
exploded device had no virtue in it. Then there 
was some talk of Betting up Pinckney openly 
to supersede Adams; but this also was mere 
folly and desperation. The truth had to be 
faced. Hamilton mournfully told his friends, 
who could not contradict him, that tic fight lay 
between Adams and Jefferson, and that in such 
a dilemma they were hound to support Mr. 

Adams. With WTJ faces they came up to swal- 
low t be nauseous dose. 

The 1 [amiltonian Federalists had for some 
time past been fond of extending to Mr. Adams 
such unkind charity as lies in the excuse of 
madness. He must be insane, fchey said; and 
sometimes they seemed more than half in ear- 
nest in the remark. lint with all his anger, 
bitterness, and mortification, it soon appeared 

that there were crazier men than he at work 
in these acrimonious days. Chief among them 
was Hamilton himself, who, however, was not 
without assistants well worthy of the same un- 
pleasant description. Made more vindictive 
than ever by the necessity of actually aiding 


the cause of the man whom he hated, Hamil- 
ton now determined on the extraordinary step 
of writing a public letter containing an arraign- 
ment of Mr. Adams in his administration. He 
professed that he did not intend to do this by 
way of opposition to Adams's reelection; on the 
contrary lie s;ii<l that he should close, and finally 
he actually did close, this singular document 
with the advice that this unlit man should be 
again charged with those duties which he had 
just been shown to be ^<> incapable of perform- 
ing wisely, safely, or honestly. For material for 
the criminatory portion of this startling com- 
pilation, Hamilton relied in part upon Picker- 
ing and McHenry, now out of office and most 
willing and vengeful coadjutors ; but chiefly 
he depended upon Wolcott, who was still sec- 
retary of the treasury and could give the latest 
and by far the most valuable information. It 
is painful to know that Hamilton applied to 
him, and that he promised to give and did give 
the disgraceful aid which was demanded. Nay, 
he did it readily and with actual pleasure. 

This project of Hamilton spread profound 
alarm among those of his political friends who 
had not been personally engaged in the conflict 
with the president, and who therefore retained 
their self-possession and coolness of judgment. 
They remonstrated against the publication 


with as much earnestness as they ever dared to 
show in differing from their autocratic com- 
mander. But they had scant influence over 
him. The volcano was full to bursting, and 
the pent up fury must find vent. Hamilton 
was doubtful only on the point of form. He 
would have liked to seem to write in self- 
defense. In order to obtain a plausible basis, 
he addressed a letter to Adams asking an ex- 
planation concerning charges of belonging to a 
British faction, which charges he was pleased 
to say that the president had preferred against 
him. This artifice failed ; but it was mere 
matter of detail. Hamilton was, as he ad- 
mitted, " in a very belligerent humor," and was 
bent on writing the letter, with an excuse or 
without it, as might be. He would only prom- 
ise his alarmed and protesting friends that it 
should be privately and discreetly distributed, 
in such a prudent manner that it should not 
affect the electoral votes. His friends, uncon- 
vinced, were still laboring with him, when all 
choice and discretion in the matter were sud- 
denly taken both from him and from them. 
The document had already been put in print ; 
no copies had been sent out ; but by some cov- 
ert means Aaron Burr had obtained one. By 
this accident all possibility of secrecy came to 
an end. The paper was spread far and wide 


through the country as the best campaign doc- 
ument of the Democrats, and then at last even 
Hamilton could no longer deny his blunder. 

If before there had been any hope for a Fed- 
eralist success, this wretched transaction ut- 
terly destroyed it. The party went into the 
elections divided, dispirited, full of internal dis- 
trust. New York had already been lost ; and 
the causa causans of the loss, as Mr. C. F. 
Adams explains, had been the machinations 
of Hamilton intended to bring in Pinckney 
in place of Adams. It required no gift of 
prophecy now to see that defeat was inevitable. 
It came ; but Jefferson and Burr, coming in 
evenly with only seventy - three votes apiece, 
against sixty-five for Adams and sixty-four for 
Pinckney, 1 showed that a contest, which under 
such circumstances was so close, might have 
had an opposite conclusion had it been more 
wisely and happily waged by the Federalists. 
It was a fair conclusion that Mr. Adams would 
have been reelected had it not been for the 
hostility of Mr. Hamilton and his clique. 

If Mr. Adams as president had served his 
country better than he had served his party, at 
least one of the latest acts of his administra- 
tion was an equal service to both. Having of- 

1 An elector from Rhode Island voted for Adams and Jay 
instead of for Adams and Pinckney. 


fered the chief justiceship of the United States 
to Jay, who declined it, he then nominated 
John Marshall. The Parthian shot went home. 
Half of what the Democrats seemed to have 
done by the election of Jefferson was undone 
by the appointment of Marshall. By it the 
Federalists got control of the national judi- 
ciary, and interpreted the constitution in the 
courts long after they had shrunk to utter in- 
significance as a political party. 

Adams sat signing appointments to office 
and attending to business til] mar the close of 
the last hour of his term. Then before the 
people were astir on the morning which ush- 
ered in the day of Jefferson's inauguration, he 
drove out of Washington. He would not wait 
to see the triumph <>t' his successor. Mr. C. F. 
Adams seeks to throw a cloak of fine language 
Over this act of childish spite and folly, hut to 
no purpose. It was the worst possible mani- 
festation of all those petty faults which formed 

such vexatious blemishes in Adams's singularly 
compounded character. 

Bui it is needlessly cruel in this hour of his bit- 
ter mortification to sneer at his silly egotism, to 
laugh at his ungoverned rage. lie was crushed 
beneath an intense disappointment which he 
did not deserve, he was humiliated by an un- 
popularity which he did not merit. For he had 


done right in great national matters, and had 
blundered only in little personal ones. Yet he 
felt and declared himself a " disgraced " man. 
The word was too strong ; yet certainly he was 
an unfriended, hated, and reviled man. He was 
retiring full of years but not full of honors. 
He had been as faithful, as constant as labori- 
ous a patriot as Washington ; and. taking his 
whole career from the beginning, his usefulness 
to the country had been second only to that of 
Washington. He had lately done an immense 
service to his country in saving it from war. 
Had he not a right to repine and to feel bitter 
at the reward allotted to him? Certainly he 
had had very hard luck ; everything might have 
gone so differently had it not been for the an- 
tipathy of a single individual towards him. 
Had it not been for this he might have had 
real coadjutors in the members of his cabinet ; 
he might have acted with coolness and dignity, 
having his temper relieved from the multitudi- 
nous harassments which he had felt though he 
could not explain them. He might with a 
clear mind have moulded and carried out a 
strong, consistent policy, in an even-handed 
and dignified manner, which would have made 
it impossible for the Democrats to defeat him. 
All this would have been probable enough, if 
the disturbing influence of Hamilton had been 


withdrawn. To that one man it seemed due, 
and perhaps it really was due, thai Adams was 
ending his public life in humiliation and unhap- 

This volume lias grown to such length that i 
few Linea only can be given to Mr. Adams's re- 
maining yean. He passed them in his pleas- 
ant homestead near the roadside' in Quincy, 
among his family and friends. The] were tran- 
quil and uneventful to B d which must 

u have seemed tedious to one who had Led 
stirring a Life in busy capitals amid great 

events. Yet he seems in the main to have been 

cheerful and contented. The town was full (A 

his kindred and his friends, and he was always 

met with gratifying kindliness and respect. 

His wife survived until the autumn of 1 s 1 8, 

when she died of typhus fever on October 28, 

II.- was then eighty-three years old. His son, 

John Quincy Adams, could he Little at home; 

hut the can-'' of bis absence, in his steady 
< nt through positions of public trust and 
liniKu-, must h;r ae far t<» prevent regret. 

Tim hither had the pride and pleasure of wit- 
nessing h;s elevation to the presidency in 1825, 

and fortunately did not ftUrvive to know of the 

failure and disappointment four years Later. 

But Adams WS five and too iirita- 

bl«- I i feel do regret at decadence; at times 


the ^loomim often accompanying old age 

teemed to wt the better of bis courage. Jt - 
in Bucb a temper thai he wrote to Rufua King, 
in L814: •• I .nil Left alone. . . . ( 'an there be 
any deeper damnation in this universe than to 
be condemned to a Long life in danger, toil, 
and anxiety; to be rewarded only with abuse, 
insult, and slander; and to die at seventy, leav- 
ing to an amiable wife and uine amiable chil- 
dren nothing for an inheritance but the con- 
tempt, hatred) and malice of the world? I low 
much prettier a thing it ia to be a disinterested 
patriot like Washington and Franklin, live and 
die among the hosannaa of the multitude, and 
leave half a million to one child or to uo child I 
Such moods of repining at their lota, and of 
dissatisfaction with the rewards meted out foi 
their services, were of frequent occurrence 

both with .John Adams and with his gon, John 

Quincy Adams. The same habit Ia noticeable, 
however, as prevailing, though in a lesa deg 
among many of their contemporaries; it \. 

the fashion of the day, and m;i\ be considered 
as the New England form of development of 
the famous habit of grumbling and fault-find- 
ing notoriously belonging to John Bull. At 
least Mr. Adams's high appreciation of his own 
preeminent merits and distinguished services 
remained with him to comfort and console him 


to the end. His vanity and supreme self-sat- 
isfaction passed away only with his passing 

He read a great deal during his old age, even 
then constantly extending his knowledge and 
preserving his native thirst for information still 
unqaenched. His interest in affairs was as 
great as ever, and he kept his mind in activity 
and vigor. At times he fought the old battles 
o'er again with not less spirit than in younger 
days. His first purpose after his retirement 
was to write a vindicatory reply to Hamilton's 
tirade against him; but his zeal cooled during 

the work so that he never finished it. Then 

he began an autobiography, but this boo he left 
in the slmpe of a mere fragment. When John 
Quincj Adams, unable to stomach the increas- 
ing British aggressions at the time of the at- 
tack by tin- Leopard upon the Chesapeake, sev- 
ered his connection with the feeble remnant of 

the Federal party. John Adams was in fall 

sympathy with him. Pickering published a 
pamphlet arraigning the administration, and 
Adams replied t<> it. actually appearing as the 
Bupporterof President Jefferson's policy. This 
tergiversation, a- hi- enemies chose to regard 
it. greatly incensed the old Hamiltonians, who 
now hastened to revamp the charges contained 
in Hamilton's letter. The spirit of the old 


fighter was aroused, and he recurred to his de- 
sign of an elaborate defense. Reentered upon 
it with little appreciation of the extent to which 
his labors would extend. For after he had 
once got fairly at the interesting work he could 
not easily check himself, and his letters to the 
"Boston Patriot" were continued through a 
period of nearly three years, and a portion of 
them, published in book form, constituted an 
octavo volume of goodly proportions. These 
letters are not reproduced in Mr. C. V. Adams's 
edition of the works of John Adams ; Indeed 
the grandson appears inclined to regret that 
they ever saw the light, at least in the manner 
and shape in which they did, w * scattered 
through the pages of a newspaper of very lim- 
ited circulation, during three years, without 
order in the arrangement, and with most un- 
fortunate typography." It is not surprising to 
hear that they were marked with "too much 
asperity towards Mr. Hamilton." 

But a much more unfortunate composition 
was the famous Cunningham correspondent e. 
which also Mr. C. F. Adams declines to repub- 
lish, and very properly under the peculiar cir- 
cumstances, which he states. These were writ- 
ten by the ex-president to one of his relatives 
soon after his return to Quincy. They were 
M under the seal of the strictest confidence," and 


contained "the most unreserved expression of 
his sentiments respecting the chief actors and 
events in the later portion of his public life." 
In other words, they were vehement, rancorous, 
abusive, and unjust, as was perfectly natural 
when it is remembered under what fresh provo- 
cation of real wrongs their writer was smarting 
at the time. His vanity and his rage naturally 
found free expression as he strove in close con- 
fidence to tell to a friend the story of the un- 
fair treatment of which he had been the vic- 
tim. Mr. C. F. Adams says that an heir of the 
person to whom these letters were written gave 
them to the opponents of John Quincy Adams 
to be used against him when he was a candi- 
date in the presidential campaign; and that 
this ignominious transaction w;is rewarded with 
a post in the Boston custom-house. It was of 
course a great mistake upon Adams's part that 
lie wrote them, and it was a grave misfortune 
for him that they were, even though dishonora- 
bly and many years afterwards, sent out before 
the world. It was the lust and nearly the worst 
exhibition of that blind imprudence which at 
one time and another in his career had cost 
him so dear. But he could not eliminate or 
control the trait ; in fact he never fairly appre- 
ciated its existence ; throughout his life he was 
invariably convinced that all his own actions 


were perfectly right and wise ; he was always 
a strenuous and undoubting partisan of himself, 
so to speak. 

In his declining years he had some flattering 
public honors done him by his fellow-citizens, of 
a kind to bring more- of pleasure than of labor. 
He was appointed a presidential elector, and 
cast his vote for James Monroe at the second 
election of that gentleman to the presidency. 
He was also, at the age of eighty-five, chosen 
the delegate from Braintree to the constitu- 
tional convention of Massachusetts, at the time 
when, Maine being set off, it was deemed ad- 
visable to frame a new constitution. The body 
paid him the compliment of choosing him to 
preside over its deliberations ; but he wisely 
declined a labor beyond his strength. He took 
no active part in the debates ; but it should be 
remembered to his honor that he endeavored 
to procure such a modification of the third ar- 
ticle of the bill of rights " as would do away 
with the recognition of distinct modes of relig- 
ious faith by the state." It is to the discredit 
of his fellow delegates that in this good pur- 
pose he was unsuccessful. The aged man could 
only put himself upon record as more liberal, 
more advanced in wisdom and in a broad hu- 
manity, than the men of the younger genera- 
tion around him. 


Before lie died nearly all his old animosities 
had entirely disappeared, or had lost their vir- 
ulence. Hamilton and Pickering he could 
never forgive ; such magnanimity, it must be 
admitted, would have been beyond human na- 
ture. But he became very friendly with Jef- 
ferson. Some advances towards reconciliation, 
made by his old enemy through Mrs. Adams, 
he rejected. But later Dr. Rush was success- 
ful in bringing the two together, so that a 
friendly correspondence was carried on between 
them during their closing years. 

1 1 is mind remained clear almost to his last 
hours. He died at sunset on the fourth day of 
July, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of Amer- 
ican independence. The familar story goes 
that his last words were, "Thomas Jefferson 
&\\\\ survives." But Jefferson too had passed 
awaj a few hours earlier on that day. 


Adams, C. F., quoted, as to appoint- 
ment of Washington, 98 ; as to 
proposition for a navy, 110; as to 
services of John Adams in draw- 
ing Declaration of Independence, 
126; as to John Adams's relation 
with Washington, 137 ; treatment 
of French relationship with the 
colonies, 157 ; quoted, as to John 
Adams's correspondence with de 
Vergennes on financial matters, 
175; on same subject, 178; quoted, 
as to Adams's visit to Amsterdam, 
191 ; quoted, as to the treaty with 
Holland, 196 ; as to mission of 
Digges, 213; account of presenta- 
tion of John Adams to George 
III., 233, says McIIenry repre- 
sents his colleagues and Hamil- 
ton as to failure of French mis- 
sion, 283; quoted, as to prepara- 
tion of a message by the cabinet 
and Hamilton for Mr. Aflame, 
294 ; vindicates the final mission 
to France, 298 ; on nomination of 
Vans Murray, 302 ; remarks on 
the resignation of McIIenry and 
dismissal of Pickering, 314 ; de- 
fends John Adams's conduct at 
the close of his presidential term, 
322; declines to republish the 
letters to "The Boston Patriot,"' 
and the Cunningham letters, 327, 

Adams, Henry, first of the name in 
America, 1 , his property, 2. 

Adams, John, birth and parentage, 
1 ; goes to Harvard College, 2 ; 
social rank, 3 ; aristocratic ten- 
dencies, 3; begins his diary, 5; 
character in youth, 6-10 ; chooses 
a profession, eschewing the min- 
istry for the bar, 10-16 ; his stud- 
ies, relaxations, and admission to 

the bar, 17; marries, 20; a typi- 
cal New Englander, 20-23 ; hears 
Otis speak concerning writs of 
assistance, 24 ; behavior at time 
of stamp act, 26-28 ; appointed 
counsel for Boston, 28-32; lan- 
guage iu Hancock's case, 32; po- 
sition as a patriot, 32, 34, 35, 43 ; 
removal to Boston, 88; is offered 
place of advocate-general in ad- 
miralty, 88; connection with the 
Boston massacre and the trials of 
Preston and the soldiery, 86-40; 
elected to the General Court, 4<>; 
dislike to public career, 40-42, 
46, 60; bad health and removal to 
Braintree, 42; comes hack again 
to Boston, 45: taunted by Otis, 
46 ; his real position at this time, 
47-5 1 ; project for a history, 51; 
opinion of the prospect, 52-54 ; 
representative to the First Con- 
gress, 53-55 ; his qualifications 
and his own feelings, 64-62; let- 
ters to his wife, 62; journey to 
Philadelphia, 63-68; opinion of 
New York, 67 ; gets some good 
advice, 65-68 ; his daily life and 
his comrades, 69, 78-8u ; opin- 
ions on non-importation and non- 
exportation, 70; services on com- 
mittees, 71 ; his behavior and 
sentiments as to the members 
and the doings of Congress, 73-80 ; 
anticipations of result, 78 ; dele- 
gate to the provincial assembly 
of Massachusetts, 82 ; writes let- 
ters of " Novanglus,'' 82; rides 
over the field of Lexington, 83; 
returns to Philadelphia, 83; has 
the sympathy of his own and 
his wife's families, 84 ; comical 
sketch of Dickinson, 84 : observa- 
tions concerning public opinion 



along the route to Philadelphia, 
84, 85; military aspirations, 8 
remarks on 1 1 1 *- temper of Con- 
gress, v 7 . his prominence in that 
body, 88; liis opposition to Dick- 
inson, 88,81; hi- own -kt-trh of 
boa \ ':>■ .\ - .a thi- tunc, B9 91 . ef- 
forts to indue- i ■ • 1 1 _- r # — to adopt 

the armi , 88-100 ; bli share In 
the appointment of Washington, 

9o- 1 1 « » ; bis Interoepted letu i 
In- wile and to General Warren, 
enda August, 

177">. .it In- home, 1"1 . returns 

- ptember. l"4 ; 
U isfled a 1th temper <d Con- 
jf r< ■--. 104 107 • nil o>\ i, devotion 
to the cause oi Independence, 106 
1« »T 1 1~> 1 18 ; dailj occupations, 
1 '7 . harsh criticisms ol mem 
I - 


foreign missions. 111 ; visit to 
i ppointed 
chid Justice of the proTince, 118; 
return-, bringing Important In- 
structions to the Mussnchii 
delegation, 118 . fori 
114 et $eq. ; introdi solu- 

tion that the itates organise In 
di i • • ernment - 

motion for the d< o 
lanition of indi pendent e, l-i . 

D i ommittt • to .haw the 

document, 1-4 . bis act u 

in that ei.nneetii.ii. 126 !'_7; on 

eommitti • 

on the board ol war and 
nai • bare In the d< 

<■!! the declaration of inde| • 

; letter to I 

on probable rnnsequenn - ol the 

nation, 180 . his real \ 
as compared with Washington, In 
the Revolution, 181 si see . letter 
to Pickering 
war 1, 186; In 

n-\ tow.. 

■ r\ i< en iii the 


( oaum i it". 

write- the pamphlet, " Thoughts 

on Government,' 1 14" ; letter 

to Patrick lli-nn on this topic, 

14'J ; ntvieei during the last 
I in Congress, 
14 141 :• Blgnatton, 148 . ap- 
pointed commissioner to the 

French court, 147 ; emharkation, 

148; services in France and ad- 
vice to Congress, 149-162; return, 
168; opinions as to France and 
England, 168-166 member ol the 

Constitutional Convention of 

Massachusetts, 166 ; again sent 
to France to negotiate peace 
with Great Britain, 166, 161 j nil 
early sentiments toward- Prance 
and de \ ergenj appointed 

largely through llilllielice of 

Massachusetts, In order to pre- 
-< rve the flshi original 

opinion- on this subject, 164 ; 
qualifications as a diplomatist, 
165 168; relations with Franklin, 

DrSt letter to OS \ ei seniles, 

indignation at do Vergemaes' 
r«'pl\ . 1 <0 ; disagrees a Ith tie 
\ ergenni i, 17" 17'J . prec u res 
publication ol the purpose "t ins 
miseii n. 1 7 "J . without occupation, 
■ • - lot Fre n ch 

new -paper- concerning a, 

i nter- on correspondence 
with de Vergennes, 174 . irn 
de Versjeunes bj his commualoa- 
tions concerning proposed repu- 
diation of debts HI the Stat.-, 

17.'. 1M ; unpleasant relations 
with Franklin, 180 L88 . letter 
to de Vergennes asking for i 

issistanee, etc . 1 38 ; 
i i Irritating letter to de 
lined h\ 
U to \ 1 1 
dam, 190 nea conn is to 

in. ,i neutrality ." L91 | ap 
led minister plenipoten 
t.. the i nited Proi ln< as, I 
obstructed l>\ de Vergennes, 192, 
his pollcj and Its rat 

■ i as minister 
at the I Legue, Li 6 effecti atn 

with llollaml .\ - BJ to 

ol the British govern- 
ment towards tin flic 
i;. md as to the i 
. 198 201 summoned ln-m 

llollaml to Paris, Mi hope of a 

• iatlon for pi ■ 
genuoush treated bj de Vet- 
gem hut detects the 

man, 206; bis recall sought by 
de Vergennes, 'J' '7 : has others 
elated with him in commis- 
sion to ' real for p< m u gry 
at the Instructions com erning the 
treaty, 'J.\ { > \ sustains Jay's ob- 
jections to proposed form of ne 



gofiation, and suggest* amend- 
ment, 216i letter to Jackson on 
French polio] , 219 - in- 

structions In the negotiation for 
passe, 219; proposal concerning 
compensation to I oris* . 220 
the fisheries, 221 ; rebuked by Iir- 
lagston, 224 . indignation t hei 

bomesiok, 226 . Illni 
obliged to k<> to amsterdam coo 
ccniin^ Loans, 280; commissioned 
to furm treaties of oonuneroe, 
MO ; residence a1 \ ntouil, 281 : 
appointed minister to Greet Brit- 
ain, 291 ; pretentation to lbs 
kinj:, 288 : Buds his residence in 
England dlaagreeable, 284 
tetui in borne, 289 ; reflections on 
nil t b( nrc, '_'H ; bis relations to 
the new cone! itution, 244 ; • 
Hon ti> tin- \ L e e- p rea i dencj . 
beginning <d qnarral with Ham- 
ilton, 240 ; t.iki- hia n itsa | 

i.lrnt dt I hr -in -iii-, 248; inllu- 

snce and casting 

Federalist, 200 . dei rat i<- and 

aristocratic tendenciei In hischar- 
acter, 261 . fon lu< m for ceremonj 
ami dignitj , 262 2 
kopsrsonaJ attacks, 264; reelected 


for Washington, 2 
oaodidate Cox the presidency . S 
storj of his •lection, 268 9 I 
expresses in- eagox to Knox, 2 
Inauguration, 266; conciliatory 
advances oi Demo 
hi- administration, 268 270; situ- 
iition between ths Bngliah and 
iTench factions, 271 278j rotaini 
VTashington's cabinet, 274 ; rela- 
tions with them, 271 277, 811- 

812 . lunusMtu axt ta session of 
Oon g ress ooncerning teiationfl 
with fuiise, -77 : speech, 278 

desire for a tiav\ , 279 | loheme 
for a new mission to France, 277, 
280; suggests an embargo, 282 
consults cabinet as bo course te be 
pursued if the French mission 
should fail, 282 ; messages to 
Congress oommunioating failure 
of the mission. 234 ; receive- pop. 

ular support, 286 ; recalls (Jerry, 
286 ; sends famous messages to 
Congress, 287 ; signs alien and 
sedition acts, 287 ; nomination of 
officers for the new army and 
consequent difficulties with Ham- 
ilton, 288-291; consults his cabi- 

net and amends the speech pre- 
• I fox iiim to send in to Con- 
incerning French rela- 
tion - furthex news 
through Vans Murray, 298; nom- 
inate-. Vans Murxsj minister to 
France, 800; visited bj the com- 
mittee cf rlu- senate on nomina- 
tions, 801 ; nomin I hen 
with Vans Murray, 802; goes 
home to Ojuincy, 308 ; retun 
meet his cabinet at Trenton, 804 ; 
solicited to delaj , but 
order- the cii\u\ - to , 80u ; by 
this action divides the federalist 
part elationship to that 
par- • . gubsequentlj de- 
fends his doings about the French 
mission, -I'l'.t ; Lll-serred by hia 
net, ; il 1 818; forces Mcllenry 
to resign, 313 ; dismisses Picker- 
bag, 811 ; tills the \ inansiss with 
Marshall and Dexter, 818, 814 ; 
relations with Woloost, whom he 
appoint! a ju I 
report- about Pickering's die* 

missal, iled for having 

I mad Fries, 816 . de-ire for 
reelection, 816 ; hated by the 
I [amiltonians, "17 ; their machi- 
nations agaiost him, 817 821 de- 
-1 . hi- disappointxaent 
and departure from Washington, 
retirement to Ojniney, 824 ; 
istanaJ despondency, 826; oc- 
cupations, 826 . sustains John 

OjuinC] Adam- in his defection 
from the i federal party, 826; re- 
plies to :i ii assault bj Pickering, 
and lustaini Jefferson, 826 ; writes 
• . " The Boston 

Patriot," 827 . also the Cunninir- 

ham letters, '■'<-'. as presidential 

elector, vote- for Monroe, 829; a 
delegate to the Constitutional 

Convention of Mas.-achu- 

829; reconciliation with Jeffer- 
son., 880; death, 880. 

Adams, Mrs. John, joins her hus- 
band at auteuil, 2:51 ; feelings 
ooncerning the English mis-ion, 
288; remark ahout Hamilton's 
Machiavellian policy, 267 ; death, 

Adams. John Quincy, describes his 
father's social position, 3; diary 
of, 5 : sustained bj bis father in 
leaving the Federal party, 326. 

Adams, Samuel, representative in 
Firat Congress, 63, 63 ; ooncern- 


the adoption of the an: 

•■ in flrat 

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rral. notN ■itilr— 

romi limn TWlaration ot 


partnient, 174 , bul 


i • • I | I | . I - - : . I i , 

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<-• ti,ini»«i' i.' r t" f> 



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claim Ol 


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army, W». 
limn TiTirk. Hi I 


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a| time ol 

4ebn Batfttodl to Alam*, 

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p.^r« commlttlou- - BO. 

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• -^l.r.'. *><•. 281 . hit 



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M. !!• 

•i tailnxa <>f French 


H i: I enmitj t \ 

v lams to resign, 



313; aid* Hamilton in preparing 
hi- pamphlet againfl idami 

ulster to 

• ATp-taki: 
Adams m presidential 

near, a- i 
on Mr' 

■ thi r», I* NO* 
firuirl, 308. 

r«--icna, US. 



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MOOT in t !»•• BOOMlM a* l" 

M Murray («>r Tal- 
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minister to France, 274; bir 

' I an general in the 
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■trail, marrie* J<>1. 
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treatment of American en • 

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glvea aii nuient it. 

Hit ile : rhar 
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to a later •oinii 


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I >t emiru written by 

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